Maggie Alarcón

Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Trump: Thunder and Traps

In Cuba/US, Politics, Politics, US on July 3, 2017 at 11:57 pm


By Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

Much has been said and will be said about the grotesque show that took place in Miami on June 16 and the lies and threats against Cuba there pronounced. Trump’s speech, incoherent and clumsy like all of his, made at least two things clear: he will do all he can to harden US policy toward Cuba, canceling the timid steps that his predecessor had taken and [the fact that] the current President is an irremediable liar.

It is customary there in the North to mix politics with spectacle, information with entertainment, even if, as in this case, in terrible taste. For those who look at it from the outside, a good dose of Cartesian doubt is advisable and prudence is necessary to avoid being confused. Especially if it’s about what someone says like the quirky occupant of the White House.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a tireless fighter for justice and civil rights, was right to reject Trump’s speech. She stressed the importance of fighting to prevent specific regulations which would translate the presidential directive into mandatory rules that are even more damaging to peoples of the two countries. There, on that very day, there was evident proof of the correctness of her concern.

In his speech, Trump announced that he would issue a new executive order to replace the one already repealed that had guided Obama’s policy in its last two years. There in front of everyone, he added his signature to the document that appears on the official site of the White House, but which nobody read.

What he said does not correspond exactly with what he signed and the latter is what counts, because it has legal force and will guide the conduct of his administration. The contrast is evident, for example, in the case of remittances many Cubans on the island receive from their relatives residing in the United States. According to the speaker in Miami, such remittances would continue and would not be affected.

But right there, in the same act, without hiding, he signed an order that says exactly the opposite. On this issue of remittances, the document entitled “Presidential Memorandum for the Strengthening of The United States Policy towards Cuba,” which Trump signed and which was publicized by the White House. The fine print states that there would be millions of Cubans living on the island who would not be allowed to receive remittances.

In Section III, subsection (D), the definition of “prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba” is now extended to cover not only the leaders of the Cuban State and Government, but its officers and employees, the military and civilian workers of the Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior, the cadres of the CTC, of the trade unions, and the Defense Committees of the Revolution. Professor William M. Leogrande estimates that this would be more than one million families.

Trump boasted that he would drop all Obama’s moves and he probably intends to do so.
But he knows that this contradicts the interests and opinions of some business sectors linked to the Republican Party and that is why he hides behind aggressive rhetoric and often undecipherable jargon. With regard to the issue of Cubans and remittances he had no choice but to use his favorite weapon: the lie.

We must now see how they write and apply this new order that seeks to punish the Cuban population as a whole.

Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann.

Is Obama Acting Pragmatically in the Alan Gross Case?

In Alan Gross, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Politics, US on January 22, 2013 at 1:16 pm


Professor López-Levy offers irrefutable proof that the situation in the case of Alan Gross has no other option than serious negotiation by the governments of Cuba and the United States. Prisoner exchange may be the only viable option, even when the two cases, that of Mr Gross working as a paid contractor violating Cuban law and that of the Cuban Five infiltrating paramilitary groups aiming to wrought violence against Cuba, are no  where close to being similar. -MAP


By Arturo López-Levy

This article was originally published at Sharnoffs Global Views 


The worst managed issue between Cuba and the United States during Obama and Raul Castro’s first terms has been the detention of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in a Cuban military hospital since December 3, 2009. Shirking the first requirement of pragmatism, namely “facing the facts,” the Obama Administration has created its own fictional narrative that contradict even its own documents now available to the public.

Gross is an American international development expert who entered Cuba as a non registered foreign agent. As a USAID subcontractor, his mission was to create a wireless Internet satellite network based on Jewish community centers that would circumvent Cuban government detection. The USAID program was approved under section 109 of the Helms-Burton Act, a law committed to regime change in Cuba.

Gross’s actions were covert. He never obtained the informed consent of the Cuban government or the Cuban Jewish community, which has always expressed opposition to the Helms-Burton law, particularly its attempt to politicize religious communities as tools to promote opposition groups. Mr. Gross did not know Cuba and did not speak Spanish. He loved Cuban music but that is hardly a qualifier for the type of covert mission he received from Development Alternatives Initiatives (DAI), a contractor for the US government.

All this is well-known, but Washington maintains that Gross did humanitarian work in Cuba. The US insists that the international community simply misunderstands the Helms-Burton law; it doesn’t violate Cuba’s sovereignty. USAID claims that Cuban civil society, religious groups and even dissidents who criticize the Helms-Burton approach are mistaken. The Helms-Burton law helps them; they just don’t realize it.

A new declassified document of a USAID task force associated with Gross indicates a pattern of consistent misinformation. At the head of a list of go-to-sources of information on Cuba, the program recommended Babalu blog, an irrelevant website managed by rabid pro-embargo elements.

Babalu blog does not focus on Cuba but on spreading baseless accusations and insults against Obama and his administration’s policy towards Cuba. According to one of the less insulting posts, Obama is a “Marxist tyrant” along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator John Kerry and any Cuban-American or American who disagrees with Babalu Blog writers’ McCarthyism. The fact that USAID Cuba program recommends Babalu Blog as a reliable source of information is in itself a call for closing the program until some adult guidance is guaranteed.

A message from Planet Earth to the Obama Administration

Every day Gross spends behind bars is an embarrassment for the American government. If anybody wonders why Havana is opposed to USAID plans to create Internet connections that circumvent its capacity to monitor traffic should read David Sanger’s new book Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power. “Olympic Games” was the code name for Stuxnet, a cyber worm that caused major disruptions in Iran’s nuclear program. According to Sanger, it was “the most sophisticated, complex cyber-attack the United States ever launched.”

But should Americans participating in USAID programs in Cuba worry about this? Cuban government officials don’t read capitalist newspapers. Oh, wait, sure they do! A team in Havana analyzes US publications, alerting their superiors of potential threats to Cuba’s national security. Although Mr. Sanger’s book was published after Gross was arrested, Cuban officials have already read and analyzed it.

But, Cuba is not Iran. Havana is not a nuclear proliferator and everybody in Washington knows that Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is a sham. The use of the Stuxnet cyber worm against Iran was justified. The Iranian nuclear military program is an existential threat to Israel and a game changer of the balance of power in the Gulf against the United States and its Arab allies. Iran has lied to the International Atomic Energy Agency about its facilities and programs.

So why would Cuban leaders fear a US cyber attack? A pragmatic approach calls for looking at how Cuba’s government views the issue. The Castros didn’t get where they are without studying Washington’s treatment of Cuba over the years. It turns out that declassified US documents reveal that efforts to overthrow the Cuban government have at times been more sophisticated than what even communist propaganda denounced. Everything has been on the table, including using the mafia to kill Fidel Castro. Washington might consider the USAID Cuba project peaceful. But any hope of Cuban accommodation to its current regime change design is unrealistic.

Time for a pragmatic approach

The Obama Administration’s cordial attitude towards the Cuban-American old-guard is a bizarre ideological commitment to those who did everything possible to prevent his reelection. Hard-liners’ insistence on rejecting negotiations in the Gross case is a transparent attempt to torpedo Obama’s overall dialogue approach with our adversaries, even when it clearly serves American national interests.

Whether American diplomats realize it or not, the Obama Administration’s fixation on Cuba’s unilateral release of Gross is making US policy looks amateurish. Even if Washington considers it unreasonable for Cuba to link Gross to the five Cuban agents arrested in Florida, it makes no sense to put on hold constructive proposals for better relations in other areas. Obama’s legacy in the hemisphere will suffer if he wastes his second term flexibility to improve US-Cuba relations because of unrealistic expectations. Incidentally, the probability of releasing Gross will improve as general relations do.

A central characteristic of pragmatism is the analysis of every challenge on its own merits without attempting to litigate, once again, yesterday’s battles. Continuing to operate our Cuba policy under an old and failed “regime change” strategy ignores the fact that the regime will soon change organically. Moving toward a comprehensive policy of engagement now is in the national interest of the United States, and is certainly in the best interests of Alan and Judy Gross.

It’s not always greener

In Cuba, Cuba/US, Politics, US on January 16, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

The most dramatic and necessary of all the changes brought about during the Presidency of Raul Castro, is finally here. Cubans are allowed to exit the country freely, no longer requiring the devilish “exit visa”.

When one factors in the reasons why this is an all around positive move we find that the aspect that tops the list,  contrary to popular belief,  is the reality that of all of those Cubans who will be making trips abroad, most of them, will be coming back home.

Cuba was never really a jail as some have spent years and endless amounts of paper and ink claiming. It was an island that under extremely difficult circumstances was trying to survive, and still is. Still, that said, the concept of having to solicit a formal authorization in order to leave the country was something that after decades, began to weaken much of what the country had been striving to achieve: complete social justice. Cubans on the island simply couldn’t comprehend why they were obliged to go and request the government to allow them to exit the country and then return. Herein lies the gist of the issue, Cubans will not only be allowed to exit, they will also be allowed to remain abroad (this time restraint still needs tweaking) for a maximum of 24 months, and they will be allowed to return home. No longer will  there be the anguish of having to decide between “here” and “there”.

The issue now will be entry visas from the countries where the Cubans will wish to travel to. Not just the United States. Canada, Spain, Mexico and others will be nations where Cubans will swarm the consulates in Havana requesting the right to enter. And not only will it be Cubans who will need to understand the concept and the aspects that regulate world travel, some bloggers out there will also have to take a crash course as I read in one piece.

“A visa is still needed to enter almost any country Cubans wish to visit. There is a short list of countries that the government will allow its citizens to travel to visa free: Malaysia, Hungary, Russia, Liechtenstein, Ukraine, Belarus, Slovakia, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Cristobal and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Moldova, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

The author of this blog post either has a problem with the English language and mixed up the subject of the sentence, or seriously needs to learn a bit more about international travel laws before writing. The Cuban government, whether it wants to or not, has NO LEGAL RIGHT to tell another government that Cuban citizens may travel there “visa free”.  The above mentioned nations may have established a covenant with Cuba (not that I am aware of) which allows Cubans with a valid passport to travel to their nations visa free, but by no means is that ever a decision made by the Cuban Government.

There is another issue which involves the United States specifically. In the past, Cubans wanting to travel to the US were subject to a series of restrictions one of which, of course, was the exit permit, letter of invitation and other paperwork. Now on the Cuban side, all of this has been limited to a valid passport, an airplane ticket and of course a visa issued from the US enabling the individual to travel and enter the country.

Below,  another post, interviewing individuals in Cuba, pretty much sums up the current and future situation:

“I would like to travel and be with my family,” said Maria Eugenia Jimenez, who was seeing off her sister who lives in Miami. “They (the US) turned me down for a visa because I could be a possible immigrant… Now the problem is with the other countries, not with Cuba.”

In the end, the ability to travel abroad and return home will give Cubans the chance to see for themselves what lies across the waters that surround them. They will see for themselves. When they return, they will be able to better understand what is good about the island and what are the aspects within the society and the government that could use valid change. Keep in mind, for 50+ years, the US has been the “forbidden fruit” for most Cubans. They have idolized it through family members living there and friends who left. By and large the years of propaganda stemming from the different programs oriented to disrupt the Cuban revolution have painted the perfect picture of a pristine gold rushing US society where everything is to be had if you have the desire and the will.  Even if you step away from the US as an issue and ask any Cuban on the street they will have a completely distorted concept of what life is like outside of their little enclosed island. Now they will have the chance to see for themselves, and it will be a wakeup call to say the least.

If the political, diplomatic, and economic situation between Cuba and the US were to be resolved, many of these same Cubans could establish a back and forth bridge between both countries, where not only Cuba but the US could benefit.  Meanwhile you have the US embargo still in place, you also have the Cuban Adjustment Act and you have the travel restrictions against normal everyday US citizens,  regarding travel to Cuba. All of this will have to change sooner rather than later. The grass is always greener where you water it; both sides of the fence need a serious sprinkler and Cuba just opened the spout.

Cuba’s New Migration Law: Raul Castro’s First Political Reform

In Blockade, Cuban Embargo, LGBT, Politics on October 17, 2012 at 10:39 am


By Anya Landau French
Originally published Oct 16, 2012 by The Havana Note


After literally years upon years of rumors that the Cuban government was planning to implement migration reforms, today, finally it did indeed publish significant changes to Cuba’s migration law in the Gaceta Oficial (see the file attachment at the end of this post). After several years of economic reforms, some of which came ever so slowly and others of which seemed to cycle out rather quickly, such as new rules for property sales, these changes to Cuban migration law represent the first substantial political reform enacted by Raul Castro’s government.

On the one hand, this is a huge step forward for both the Cuban government and the Cuban population. The elimination of the ‘tarjeta blanca’, or white card policy, which required Cubans to be invited abroad and receive authorization to go, and the new broad right to a passport, spelled out in black and white, represents a new level of trust that hasn’t existed between the Cuban population at large and its government in many years. The new migration policy also doubles the time a Cuban may live abroad without relinquishing citizenship (and possessions left behind) to 2 years, and then after that, one must seek additional months at a Cuban consulate.

On the other hand, there are several caveats, some obvious and inocuous, and others that, depending on how broadly they are used by authorities, still mean that several categories of Cubans may not benefit from these changes, or will at the very least, have to wait to benefit. Those Cubans include those who have civil or other obligations, such as mandatory military service (something not required in the U.S., but required in other countries, one example being Israel).  Then there are those whose departure – particularly en masse – could cause a serious brain drain in a country that invests substantial resources in and highly values its human capital particularly in social, medical and scientific fields. That means doctors will still need to serve the population (or in places like Venezuela) before emigrating. And here there is a reference to the U.S. policy of offering Cuban doctors the opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. from wherever they may be posted abroad. I’ve heard the Cuban doctors abroad program described as either a conscription where the doctor has no choice or as a volunteer-with-extra-pay assignment. The U.S. considers it a conscription, and will admit any Cuban doctor who reports he or she has been conscripted into service abroad. The Cuban government considers the U.S. immigration policy toward its doctors to be a full scale effort to rob Cuba of its qualified and necessary workforce.

But the most crucial exclusions are for national security and public interest – these could leave a lot of room for interpretation. A highly visible test of these exclusions will be the next time Yoani Sanchez wants to go abroad. The Cuban government may keep her grounded and use a familiar refrain about Sanchez and her ilk being created and funded by foreign entities bent on the destruction of the Cuban state; or, and this would be the more strategic choice, one demonstrating a deeper commitment to freedom to travel, just wave her on through. It’s not hard to imagine, after all, that the Cuban government’s harassment of Sanchez has helped fuel the international interest in her affairs.

The vast majority of Cubans will not find themselves caught in one of these exclusionary categories, and I expect that we’re going to see those with money, or with family abroad who will pay for their trip, taking advantage of this welcome change. This will of course complicate matters for U.S. officials who will have to consider many, many more temporary entry visa requests. I expect it will cause the U.S. to renew its request for more visa officers in Havana – or at least publicly – which will cause Havana to request reciprocity in Washington, DC, at which point everything will gum up as it often does. Over the last couple of years, the U.S. appears to be keeping its promise to halt any further progress on bilateral relations until Cuba releases Alan Gross from a Cuban military hospital where he is serving out a 15 year prison sentence.

Normally, if the United States’ priority were to have some sort of positive impact on the ground in Cuba, it might be a good idea to react with cautious optimism over these migration reforms and take steps within our power to encourage its broad use. But with the administration’s back up against the wall over its failure to secure the release of Alan Gross,  and just weeks before a U.S. presidential election, in which the media insist that Florida’s electoral votes remain pivotal, I doubt there will be much enthusiasm in Washington for Cuba’s new migration law. There’s a certain irony in that, given that Cuban Americans in Florida are precisely who will welcome this first big step forward toward the reunification of the Cuban family.


Update: If you want more details and you read Spanish, Cafe Fuerte has delved in to more specifics here.

Correction: This post originally lumped together some of the exclusions for entry into and exit from Cuba. The exclusions concerning terrorism, drug trafficking and participating in activities that are intended to subvert the internal political, social or economic order are exclusions on entry into Cuba.

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Paul Ryan’s Cuban Conversion

In Alan Gross, Blockade, CAFE, Cuban Americans, US on September 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm

By Douglas Bloomfield 

Originally posted in The Jewish Week

In politics, where you sit often determines where you stand.

Up north in Wisconsin’s largely rural First Congressional District, Rep. Paul Ryan told his constituents it was time to end the trade embargo on Cuba. “If we think engagement works well with China, well, it ought to work well with Cuba. The embargo doesn’t work. It is a failed policy.” As for those who wanted to tighten the embargo, not ease it, “I just don’t agree with them and never have.”

That was then, this is now.

Down south in Florida this weekend he recanted and said he’d had an epiphany.  What changed his mind?  He’s now running for vice president and campaigning in the rabidly anti-Castro Cuban-American areas of south Florida, critical to  Republican hopes of winning that battleground state.

Like Mitt Romney’s 180 turns on abortion, health care, guns and so many other issues, he attributes the shift to an evolution in his thinking, but the reality is both are just tailoring their views to appease extremists in their party.

Ryan said he changed his mind from what he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel a decade ago as a result of his “friendships” with some of Florida’s leading anti-Castro Republicans.  Thanks to them, he said, he now knows “just how brutal the Castro regime is.”  No explanation where he’s been for the past 50 years.

And what about Ryan’s old views on Cuba?  Not only has he renounced them but has assigned them to Barack Obama and labeled them “appeasement.”  Actually, the Obama administration has consistently renewed the trade embargo that Ryan once opposed and now supports, but what apparently Ryan and his friends see as appeasement is the easing of restrictions on family visits and cultural exchanges and rules that make it easier to send money to loved ones in Cuba.

This financial help from visitors and families abroad enables Cubans to purchase luxuries like soap and razors not included on their ration cards.

On my visit to Cuba earlier this year on a Jewish Heritage mission, many Jewish leaders I met with expressed fear that such exchanges, which have been so important in supporting the country’s small and often poor Jewish community, would be cut off by a Romney administration.

They rely on American visitors bringing suitcases filled with such “contraband” as pencils, paper, crayons and toys for children, clothing, vitamins, medicine, books, Judaica and cash contributions.

I saw firsthand how people-to-people exchanges were diminishing anti-American feelings.  A frequent visitor told me that signs around Havana that once blazed revolutionary slogans are now promoting tourism.

Reverting to the old Bush-era restrictions, as Romney and Ryan want, would not harm the Castro regime but would set back the progress being made by current cultural exchanges and would be harmful to the country’s small Jewish community.

Judy Gross’ Message “from Washington al Mundo”

In Alan Gross, Cuban 5, Cuban Embargo, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on September 24, 2012 at 12:48 pm


By Arturo López-Levy

Originally published in The Havana Note

Mauricio Claver-Carone hosts a satellite radio program by the name “From Washington al Mundo” covering international affairs. But don’t expect any diplomacy there. The program is merely his platform from which to insult the American foreign policy establishment. For example, in his August 6 show, Claver targeted Vali Nasr, the Dean of the School of Advanced Studies of Johns Hopkins University and a leading expert on the Middle East, calling him “a useful idiot” or an agent of Teheran for not advocating a regime change policy and promoting negotiations with Iran. Mr. Claver and his guest Shahriar Etminani agreed that the nuclear issue is mere “noise”.

In another episode, Claver denounced Washington’s engagement with Beijing. On April 17, Claver hosted Thadeus McCotter or “the smartest member of Congress” by Claver’s reckoning. The host and the guest shared their belief that as long as the Communist Party is in power, China remains the same. The United States should apply a Cold War policy to China because the war has never ended. According to Claver’s logic, the 40- year Nixon-Kissinger model of “unconditional” and “nonchalant” engagement with China is a case of “myopia”. It should be replaced by a “confrontational” approach. After Tiananmen Square, the United States should have applied to China a policy similar to our fifty year failure against Cuba: the embargo.

But on his September 13 show, Claver really outdid himself. Claver, who is also the main pro-Cuba embargo lobbyist in Washington, had prepared himself for a coronation but ended up a jester. His special guest was Judy Gross, the wife of the USAID sub-contractor Alan Gross who is imprisoned in Cuba. Mrs. Gross basically rebuked one by one all of the mantras of the pro-embargo lobby about a potential solution to her husband’s predicament. In a call to the State Department, she advocated for the immediate beginning of negotiations between the Cuban and the US governments to address Alan Gross’ imprisonment. She argued persuasively in favor of the US government taking its “moral responsibility” for sending her husband to Cuba. Mrs. Gross traversed Claver’s minefield of manipulation by refusing to join him in his statements against the Obama Administration’s steps toward engagement such as allowing people to people travel to Cuba since January 2011.

Mrs. Gross’ message in “From Washington al mundo” should be the compass of a national and world advocacy campaign for her husband’s release. Alan Gross is an American Jew. Americans and Jews all over the world have the commitment to care for a brother in faith and fellow citizen. Everything should be done, particularly a responsible negotiation with Havana, for Alan Gross’ release. At the same time, the campaign should take public distance from the US embargo or the USAID program under the Helms-Burton law. As Jews and Americans, we don’t have any committment whatsoever to the agenda of property claims and political revenge of the Cuban pro-embargo groups. There should be negotiations regarding Gross between Cuba and the United States, therefore we need to put pressure on Havana and Washington. Mr. Claver and those who share his “confrontational approach” to Iran, China, or Cuba should sail on their own.

The US government is responsible for the USAID programs, which have severe design problems, including the lack of a request for the informed consent of the Cuban Jewish Community for Gross’ actions. Gross was not a spy, but he was working in a secret program under section 109 of the Helms-Burton law to circumvent Cuban state monitoring of internet access in the island. Those in the State Department and USAID who sent Gross to Cuba knew that the American law he was working under is considered a violation of Cuban sovereignty not only by the Cuban government but also by the overwhelming majority of the United Nations and most of Cuban civil society, including all the main religious communities.

No matter how much we despise the communist censorship of internet, according to international law, the protection of the Cuban cyberspace is the responsibility of the Cuban State. Given the history of terrorist attacks by Cuban exiles against the island, sometimes with the tolerance of the US government, at best, and its complicity at worst, it is logical that the Cuban authorities would consider any attempt to undermine its control over its cyberspace as a serious threat to its sovereignty and national integrity.

Nothing between Cuba and the United States escapes the context of a fifty years old embargo. This policy was described by Pope John Paul II, as “illegal, immoral and counterproductive”. For decades, Cuban technological development has been forestalled by restrictions on trade with the largest market in the world, just ninety miles from its shores. Different from the USAID programs in other countries, including communist Vietnam, where the agency is cooperating with the government to create nonpartisan access throughout libraries, in Cuba there is a U.S. sponsored attempt to guarantee selective access to opponents and independent civil society actors while denying the sale of technology and access to the government and those who support it.

Gross’ predicament is aggravated by the powerful interests on both sides of the Florida Straits that favor the confrontational status quo between Cuba and the United States. Before the November elections, there is little incentive to negotiate some settlement of Alan Gross’ situation, which is implicitly connected- in the minds of Cuban officials- with the “Cuban Five,” a group of agents condemned in Miami under charges of conspiracy to commit espionage. Havana realizes that Gross’ imprisonment is drawing a lot of new attention to the cause of the Five and the many irregularities and deviations of American justice standards of their Miami trial.

In South Florida, pro-embargo hardliners have largely profited from the arrest of the Five and Gross. Although the five agents mainly infiltrated violent anti-Castro groups and did not cause any damage to US national security, the reiteration of news about the five Cuban “spies” has provided ammunition for those interested in denouncing Cuba’s alleged offensive designs against the United States. For the hard line exiles, Alan Gross’ incarceration has been a major asset in their campaign against Obama’s minimal engagement. That is why Claver and the Cuban American Representatives and Senators have argued vigorously against any negotiation. Curiously, Radio Marti, a radio station paid by the U.S. government but controlled by the Cuban American radical exiles reported Mrs. Gross’ interview with Claver but deliberately ommitted her petition to the United States government to answer positively to Havana’s negotiation offer. Such manipulation of Mrs. Gross’ opinions is cruel and shameful. The pro-embargo forces should take responsibility for Mr. Gross’ ordeal, which was partially caused by their policies of regime change.

Simultaneously, those in Havana who despise a rapprochement with the United States, wanting to delay the unavoidable economic reform, use the Five as a rallying flag to stimulate popular support, gaining time for elite accommodation without an immediate political opening. Likewise, the release of the Cuban exile terrorist Luis Posada by a Texas immigration judge contrasts with the severely bias trial endured by the Five in Miami and feeds perfectly into Cuba’s nationalist narrative of defiance and resistance against foreign imposition and US double standards in the human rights discourse.

Therefore, a solution of the Gross case should be part of a general improvement of relations between Cuba and the United States. If Obama wins a second term, he will have the flexibility he now lacks. He should rapidly negotiate the release of Gross and enter into history as the president, who promoted a rational redesign of a five-decade-old mistaken policy of isolation against Cuba. Secretary Clinton should not leave Foggy Bottom without flying the extra ninety miles to bring Gross back home. That would be the best response to Judy Gross’ wise and moving message “From Washington al mundo”.

Dawn Gable contributted to this article.

The New Life of Cuban Dissidents in Spain

In Alan Gross, Blockade, CAFE, Cuba, Cuban 5, Politics on July 31, 2012 at 11:43 am


By Salim Lamrani


Originally published in Opera Mundi


In 2010 and 2011, all Cuban “political” prisoners were released following mediation by the Cuban Catholic Church and the Spanish government. The majority chose to move to Spain with their families and start a new life there. But the European Eldorado they had dreamed of was not to be found on an Iberian peninsula suffering from a grave economic crisis. Some even wish to return to Cuba.


At the petition of the Vatican and the Spanish government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Cuban Catholic Church, headed by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, mediated with the authorities in Havana, an intervention that led in 2010 and 2011 to the release of 127 prison inmates, 52 of whom were considered “political” by Amnesty International [1]. According to that human rights organization, there are no prisoners of conscience in Cuba [2]. The Cuban Catholic Church shares this viewpoint [3].


Some sectors accused the Cuban government, the Catholic Church and the Zapatero government of forcing those people into exile. Several Western media outlets repeated that version [4]. The Spanish Popular Party (rightist) denounced “the expatriation” of the Cuban dissidents [5].


Nevertheless, that version does not resist any analysis. In effect, of the 127 persons released in the framework of the agreement between Havana, the Vatican and Madrid, 12 chose to remain in Cuba. Laura Pollán, the then-spokeswoman for the opposition group Ladies in White, and a bitter detractor of the Cuban government, spoke clearly on the subject: “Nobody has forced any prisoner to leave the country. Whoever says the opposite is lying.” Similarly, several dissidents affirmed that at no time did the Cuban authorities ask them to leave the country as a precondition to their release [6].


Fernando Ravsberg, BBC correspondent in Havana, also denied that assertion. Several dissidents who chose to leave the country told him that “they could have remained on the island if they had so wished. They assured me that at no time was departure abroad imposed upon them as a precondition for release” [7].


The painful reality in Spain


Far from finding a prosperous nation, the Cuban dissidents were strongly impacted by the economic crisis that besets Spain. Most of them have no jobs, no resources and sometimes no roof over their heads. The Red Cross shelters take care of them. According to the Spanish press, “one year after their arrival, the exiles are losing government aid and find themselves without any resources, because a huge majority of them have not found stable employment” [8].


The new right-wing Spanish government decided to eliminate the aid granted to the Cuban dissidents one year after their arrival and refused to extend it 12 months, as originally planned, for economic reasons [9]. In fact, Spain spent an average of 2,000 euros a month per person, i.e., more than 18 million euros, to cover the needs of the 115 dissidents and their 648 relatives for one year. The cost was deemed to be too high in a country with 5 million unemployed citizens, about 25 percent of the active population [10].


Nevertheless, the Popular Party (PP) did not hesitate to use the Cubans in its political war against Havana and took four of them to Brussels to testify and defend the need to maintain the European Union’s Common Position toward Cuba, which limits political, diplomatic and cultural relations. However, the PP was ungrateful when it halted the financial assistance to them, leaving the Cuban dissidents with the bitter feeling that they had been used [11].


Since their arrival in Spain, the dissidents had ceaselessly expressed their support for the PP and criticized Zapatero’s PSOE [Socialist Workers Party], which had helped to release them [12]. Then, the Cuban dissidents decided to go on a hunger strike to protest against the PP’s decision and express their “total abandonment.” “It’s the only alternative we’ve got left,” said one of them, sitting under a tent outside the Spanish Foreign Ministry building [13].


Far from being attended by the Spanish authorities, the hunger strikers were “brutally” removed by the police and told to leave the public square [13]. Dawuimis Santana denounced the police brutality inflicted on them: “They were dragged along the ground, struck on the face and arms; one of them has a broken nose.” Four of them were arrested [15].


The forces of order usually are severe with demonstrators of every kind and made no exception with the Cuban dissidents. Some observers said that the Popular Party, habitually very willing to come to the defense of the Cuban dissidents and denounce the “oppression” of which they were victims on the island, was this time very discreet when it came to the behavior of the Madrid municipal police toward them [16].


José Manuel García Margallo, the Spanish Foreign Minister, acknowledged that the Cubans’ case was not “simple” and they were “in a difficult situation.” But he rejected any idea of extending their financial aid in view of the economic crisis afflicting the country. At most, he promised to speed up the process of validation of university diplomas [17].


Sometimes, the feeling of abandonment that the Cuban dissidents experience in Spain takes tragic turns. Albert Santiago du Bouchet, who lived in the Canary Islands since his release, committed suicide on 4 April 2012 in response to the Spanish authorities eliminating his monthly cash allotment [18]. The Spanish government rejected any “direct link” between the suicide and the decision to end the financial aid. Still, his family and several friends stated that his precarious economic situation was the principal cause of the drama [19].


Return to Cuba?


Contrary to all predictions, several dissidents declared their intention of returning to Cuba if they couldn’t travel to the United States, accusing Spain of abandoning them [20]. “It’s better to be in Cuba than on the street here,” said Ismara Sánchez [21]. “I’ve been on the street since March 31,” unable to afford a room, complained Idalmis Núñez. “Things are difficult now; we have dragged our families far from home and we can’t feed them. For the first time in my life, my conscience weighs on me. I’m afraid,” admitted another oppositionist [22].


“The children have no more food, no milk. The children can’t go to school because they don’t have money for transportation,” said oppositionist Bermúdez [23]. Orlando Fundora and his wife had to face such difficult living conditions that they even missed their homeland. In an interview with the BBC, Fundora unexpectedly confessed: “We ate better in Cuba [24].”


In reality, the decision to return to Cuba is not so surprising. Despite the nation’s limited resources, the difficulties and daily vicissitudes created by the economic blockade the United States has imposed since 1960, which affects all categories of the population and is the main obstacle to the nation’s development, the government of Havana has built a relatively effective system of social protection that satisfies the population’s basic needs. Thus, despite the troubles, 85 percent of the Cubans own their homes. They also benefit from free access to education, health care and cultural activities. The ration card allows them to receive each month, in addition to their salary, a basic food basket that’s sufficient for two weeks. That way, nobody is left to his own devices and the state looks after the more vulnerable strata of society. For that reason, despite the limits in natural resources, in Cuba you won’t find homeless people or abandoned children on the streets. According to UNICEF, Cuba is the only Third World country without malnourished children [25].


In the end, Europe was not the Eldorado promised to the Cuban dissidents. They had to face the brutal economic reality of the Iberian Peninsula and discovered that the most vulnerable were swiftly left to their own fate. They also realized that their island is not the anteroom to Hell, despite the daily problems, and that Cuba’s system of social protection takes care of the weakest citizens.




[1] Amnesty International, « Cuba, Annual Report 2012 », 2012. (site consulted July 2, 2012).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Juan O. Tamayo, « Tensa cita de las Damas de Blanco con Iglesia cubana », El Nuevo Herald, May 25, 2012.

[4] Axel Gyldén, « En exil forcé, un dissident cubain met fin à ses jours », L’Express, April 7, 2012.

[5] Público, « Aznar afirma que los presos cubanos sufren ‘un destierro’ en España », July 28, 2010.

[6] Fernando Ravsberg, « La conspiración católico-comunista », BBC, June 23, 2011. (site consulted June 14, 2012).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Carmen Pérez-Lanzac, « Exprisioneros políticos refugiados en España protestan tras quedarse sin ayudas », El País, April 11, 2012.

[9] Carmen Pérez-Lanzac, « Entre 2010 y 2011 llegaron a España 767 cubanos : 115 presos y sus familiares », El País, April 10, 2010.

[10] Joaquín Gil, « El Gobierno paga 2.000 euros al mes por cada uno de los 762 disidentes y familiares », El País, July 13, 2011.

[11] Jerónimo Andreu, « Exprisioneros políticos traídos a España por Exteriores hace un año pierden las ayudas públicas », El País, April 9, 2012.

[12] EFE, « Opositores cubanos piden a España una actitud ‘más enérgica’ contra castrismo », January 20, 2012.

[13] EFE, « Diez ex presos cubanos deciden emprender una huelga de hambre en Madrid », April 13, 2012.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Europa Press, « Denuncian la detención de cuatro expresos cubanos que protestaban en Madrid ante le Ministerio de Exteriores », May 23, 2012.

[16] EFE, « El Partido Popular español exige a Cuba que deje de oprimir a la disidencia », January 20, 2012.

[17] Carmen Pérez-Lanzac, « Exprisioneros políticos refugiados en España protestan tras quedarse sin ayudas », El País, April 11, 2012.

[18] El País, « Fallece un expreso político cubano llegado a España el año pasado », April 6, 2012.

[19] Europa Press, « España no ve ‘relación directa’ entre el suicidio de un disidente y el fin de la ayuda », April 9, 2012.

[20] Juan O. Tamayo, « Ex presos políticos cubanos en España viven pesadilla », El Nuevo Herald, April 17, 2012.

[21] Ríos Biot, « ‘Es mejor estar en Cuba que aquí en la calle », El País, April 13, 2012.

[22] Jerónimo Andreu, « Exprisioneros políticos traídos a España por Exteriores hace un año pierden las ayudas públicas », El País, April 9, 2012.

[23] EFE, « Ex presos cubanos denuncian en Madrid su ‘total desamparo’ », April 10, 2012.

[24] Fernando Ravsberg, « La conspiración católico-comunista », BBC, op. cit.

[25] UNICEF, Progreso para la infancia. Un balance sobre la nutrición, 2011.


Docteur ès Etudes Ibériques et Latino-américaines at the University of Paris Sorbonne-Paris IV, Salim Lamrani is adjunct faculty at the University of Paris Sorbonne-Paris IV, and the University of Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée. He is also a journalist, specializing in Cuban-American relations.

His latest book is État de siège. Les sanctions économiques des États-Unis contre Cuba, Paris, Éditions Estrella, 2011 (prologue by Wayne S. Smith and preface by Paul Estrade).

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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.

What “The Sun” shines on Cuba

In CELAC, Cuba, Cuba/US, Latin America, OAS/OEA, Politics, US on February 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm

From the Financial Times February 14, 2012

by John Paul Rathbone

February is the month of balmy summer days in Latin America, although the season of beach holidays hasn’t stopped a delicious diplomatic storm from brewing.

At the heart of the thundery electrostatic is the perennial problem. Will Cuba attend the “Summit of the Americas” this April?

This is more than recondite politics. It is drama. If Cuba does attend, then the world will enjoy the unique spectacle of a US President sharing the same podium as one of the Castro brothers.

If it doesn’t, well that would be because Cuba again does not meet the democratic requirements of the Organisation of American States.

The stakes – if you can call them that – are growing.

Ecuador – junior member of the Venezuela and Cuba- sponsored regional grouping, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (or ALBA, which recently brought the world these words of support and respect for the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria) – has said Cuba should be allowed to attend. Furthermore, if Cuba isn’t invited, then ALBA should boycott the Summit, where 34 heads of state are otherwise supposed to attend.

That would hold out the prospect of a similar fiasco to the 2005 Summit, when a protest rally, partly organised by the Argentine hosts, saw Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez round on a trade deal that was subsequently approved by 29 other countries.

This time round, a similar boycott would produce collateral damage for the Summit’s hardworking but embarrassed Colombian hosts. More importantly, it would be a snub for the US. Why?

Because the OAS is the sole regional forum where the US still has a voice, and a walkout by Ecuador, Venezuela et al would show that even this forum no longer counts. A case of “adios” to the gringos.

There is all sorts of fun to be had wondering how, or if, this thorny issue might be resolved.

One possibility: Cuba does attend, but walks into a firestorm of criticism about human rights and lack of elections. (Forget it: the Castros haven’t remained in power for 50 years for nothing.)

Another possibility: Raul Castro turns up on the beach at Cartagena for his April holiday anyway, and sidles into the meeting. (Unlikely.)

A third: Cuba attends as just an observer, like Spain and Portugal, which would annoy both Havana and Washington in equal measure, but might give everyone else a laugh.

The problem with this meaningless membership debate, diverting as it might be, is that it masks the real question, and hijacks the real issue. Indeed, it is a diversion.

The real issue the region should be talking about is regional integration – which indeed is the Summit’s main theme. And the real question is why Cuba doesn’t meet the OAS guidelines? (The answer is not just because the US wishes it so: when Cuba was invited to enter negotiations with the OAS in 2009, Havana said it didn’t want to.)

Still, the best defence against criticism is often attack. Indeed, looking at it all from London, the affair is somewhat reminiscent of News International staff’s protests about the heavy-handedness of the police investigation into its Sun newspaper about possible phone-hacking. The Sun’s protest may be valid but is really just a smokescreen for the bigger question: why is there an investigation in the first place?

Is the Embargo Doomed? A Fight Over the Future of Cuban American Politics

In Blockade, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Economics, History, Immigration, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on December 28, 2011 at 9:53 am


…like the Hindenburg, doomed from the start…


Originally published in The Atlantic

By Anya Landau-French

When Congress nearly failed to continue funding the government recently, one of the provisions in the spending bill that they couldn’t agree on was an obscure bit of legislation related to the almost 50-year-old embargo of Cuba.

The provision — which was eventually dropped — would have reinstated a Bush administration policy that restricted Cuban Americans to visiting family in Cuba only once every three years, and then only to immediate family and with no humanitarian exceptions — even for deathbed and funeral visits.

That policy, first adopted in 2004, was so unpopular among Cuban Americans that Barack Obama, during his 2008 campaign, promised to lift all restrictions on family travel and remittances to the island. He delivered on that promise in his first year in office. So it came as no surprise that the Cuba provision never made it into the final bill.

But, even though it failed, who championed the provision and why could reveal an important shift in how U.S. politics deal with Cuba, Cuban Americans, and our outdated embargo.

The members of Congress who led the effort to reinstate these draconian rules restricting Cuban Americans are, in fact, themselves Cuban Americans. They include the powerful chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and House Appropriations Committee member Mario Diaz-Balart. In the Senate, both Cuban American senators, Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, also favor these restrictions on travel and financial assistance to families in Cuba. Of the four, Menendez is the only democrat; all four are anti-Castro hardliners.

They argue that the travel and remittances provide a financial windfall to the Castro government. This is true: the more money Cubans have to spend on daily necessities or on starting up small businesses, the more the Cuban economy as a whole will improve and the government will inevitably capture more hard currency in circulation. The hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans are not generally fans of the Castro government — many came to America, or their parents came to America, to escape its political and economic policies. Yet sending money back is a trade-off that many of them believe they must make for the sake of their friends and family on the island.

So why do these Congressmen believe that denying the Cuban government some hard currency is so crucial a policy rider as to nearly allow it to bring down a trillion dollar spending bill? The Cuban government, after all, would likely manage to either replace or do without the money, as it did in financial crises in the early 1990s and again in 2008.

In fact, while depriving the Cuban government of hard currency is a high priority for anti-Castro hardliners in Congress, there is an even bigger issue at stake for these staunch embargo supporters. Senator Rubio put his finger on it when he defended the restrictions in 2008, while still a member of the Florida legislature.

“What you had was a situation where people would come to Miami from Cuba, stay for a year and a day and then go back,” he said. “And what this was doing was threatening the sustainability of the Cuban Adjustment Act itself, the U.S. law that gives Cubans who come to this country a special status as political exiles rather than immigrants.”

“What makes Cubans different from Haitians who come here or anyone else,” Rubio went on, “if they go back and forth, that is to say, if they’re not exiles at all? In that case, why should Cubans be any different? The whole structure would have unraveled had something not been done.”

Rubio is right to fear increasing awareness that Cubans emigres are no longer overwhelmingly political refugees, but rather are largely economic migrants. But if these newer generation Cuban emigres don’t act like exiles, why don’t Rubio and his like-minded Cuban-American colleagues fight instead to end the unique access to the United States still afforded to Cubans half a century after Fidel Castro took power?

As a different sort of Cuban emigre — economic rather than political, traveling back and forth between the two countries rather than permanently exiled in the U.S. — becomes more numerous in the U.S., they are asking for a different sort of U.S. policy toward Cuba, one at odds with the old ways. This growing, more moderate cohort of Cuban Americans who want to travel to and invest in the island could mean that the hardline exiles’ influence on U.S. Cuba policy might be waning.

Another member of Congress who supports reinstituting travel restrictions, David Rivera of Florida, has proposed legislation that would make it tougher for Cubans who still want to travel home occasionally to get green cards. This would, in effect, slow down the Cuban American community’s demographic transformation, which is seeing non-embargo-supporting economic immigrants gradually replace the political exile hardliners for dominance in the community.

“By the time you have critical mass,” he said in 2008, “with an ability to make a difference, we may all be back in Cuba.” Rivera’s bill would deny Cubans who come to the U.S. a speedy green card, as promised to them in the Cuban Adjustment Act, if they travel back to Cuba within their first five years in the United States. If Fidel Castro no longer drives Cubans into exile, Rivera and his colleagues would, forcing them to choose between their families on the island and their green card here in the United States.

Ros-Lehtinen said “there will always be another battle” when it comes to this policy, and no doubt she and her colleagues are prepared to fight it. Because, otherwise, it is only a matter of time until the rest of Congress and the U.S. reaches this game-changing conclusion — that Cuban Americans are no longer exiles in need of special refugee treatment, that this very Cuban American community on behalf of which our 50 year-old embargo persists has already substantially normalized relations with their brethren on the island — it could finally spell the end of the embargo altogether. And, for a few holdout hardliners, that’s a fight they refuse to lose.