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    The endless U.S.-Cuba chess game

    Posted on Saturday, 08.17.13

    The endless U.S.-Cuba chess game
    BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO
    FSANTIAGO@MIAMIHERALD.COM

    In the chess game that is Cuba-U.S. relations, the pieces are moving —
    but where to is anyone’s guess.

    If history provides a clue, it points in the direction of decades past:
    dashed hopes for change, no substantial advance toward democracy, and
    more emigration from the island to the United States.

    For one, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is handing out visas as if
    the office were a pastelito counter.

    In the first six months of 2013, 16,767 visitor visas were granted to
    Cubans — a 79 percent increase over last year, according to figures the
    Interests Section recently released in Cuba.

    Another 29,000 Cubans received visas to immigrate to the U.S. in 2012 –
    that’s 9,000 more than what was agreed to in the 1994 immigration pact
    with Cuba, following the exodus that sent some 35,000 fleeing by sea on
    homemade rafts.

    And now, the Obama administration has expanded the stay of Cuban
    visitors in the United States to unprecedented lengths. If you’re Cuban,
    your multiple-entry tourist visa is good for five years.

    Awkward step by awkward step, the administration has been resurrecting
    the Clinton administration’s “people-to-people” diplomacy — the theory
    that if Cubans visit the United States and Cuban Americans travel to
    Cuba, some kind of democratic karma will materialize from the exchange.

    If you’re Cuban, not a week goes by that you don’t hear about someone
    coming from Cuba — or someone going to Cuba.

    The “people-to people” policy didn’t lead to any democratic change
    during the Clinton years, and neither did the tightening of travel rules
    under the Bush years. Those who wanted to travel to the island found a
    way through third countries.

    What remained constant through both administrations was the large number
    of Cubans who arrived with visitor visas and stayed, legalizing their
    status and obtaining permanent residency 1½ years after arrival under
    the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.

    With each exodus, Cuban Miami continues to expand its layers, so much so
    that not only did the disaffected children of government officials move
    here in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but now hundreds with
    questionable pasts — including State Security officers and snitches of
    all ranks — have moved to Miami and Tampa.

    “It’s a free-for-all,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, told me Friday
    night in a wide-ranging conversation about U.S.-Cuba issues. “I work on
    this day in and day out, and I don’t know what to make of it [U.S.-Cuba
    policy].”

    In one case widely reported, former Cuban provincial prisons chief
    Crescencio Marino Rivero, who was in charge of succumbing political
    prisoners by whatever means necessary, was found living in Kendall.

    He came to Miami to join his daughter and to live out his old-age on
    U.S. Social Security.

    “I have nothing to regret,” the jailer said defiantly to the television
    cameras, before he fled back to Cuba after immigration authorities,
    faced with the protests of former political prisoners who identified
    him, began to look into his past and the legality of U.S. benefits he
    was receiving.

    But he returned, this time to New Jersey — interesting, the selection of
    the first and second-largest enclaves of traditional Cuban exiles when
    Rivero has quite a big country in which to reside — but from there, too,
    he has reportedly fled after being identified.

    The fact that Rivero went back and forth means one thing: U.S.
    authorities didn’t take away his legal status, a fate a human rights
    violator from another country may have met.

    But there’s more: Representatives of the Cuban Interests Section in
    Washington came to Miami recently, supposedly with the blessing of the
    administration, to recruit a special kind of potential investor — Cuban
    Americans willing to do business with communist Cuba.

    Some exiles have already traveled to the island to discuss opportunities.

    One of the Fanjul brothers, Alfy, whose sugar empire in Cuba was
    expropriated by Fidel Castro and whose exile remake extends from Florida
    to Santo Domingo, has met in Havana with Cuban officials who want to
    engage exiles, according to media reports.

    Miami businessman Carlos Saladrigas has openly said he has investors
    ready to help fund the cuentapropistas, the new class of entrepreneur
    the Cuban government has licensed, with millions in micro-loans.

    “I was in Bimini and I saw a friend of mine who told me
    matter-of-factly, ‘I bought a house in Guanabo [a beach town near
    Havana],’?” a Cuban exile who frequently attends Cuba discussions at the
    University of Miami’s Casa Bacardi told me. “Those who are maintaining
    the Cuban government now are we, ‘the enemy’ — to the tune of $1 billion
    annually.”

    Some Cuban Americans think it’s time to shake things up in Cuba with
    such bold moves.

    Others can’t turn away from the atrocities being committed against
    dissidents standing up to human rights abuses — from constant beatings
    and detentions to machete attacks in rural areas to the questionable
    death of dissident leader Oswaldo Payá.

    Whatever the point of view, it’s difficult to see any clarity in the
    administration’s new visa-craze toward a country caught funneling a
    cargo of armaments to North Korea hidden under stacks of sugar on a ship
    attempting to cross the Panama Canal, a violation of United Nations
    regulations.

    Or a country that announces so-called immigration reforms — and then
    denies entry to the Ladies of White founder exiled in Spain who wants to
    see her ailing 92-year-old father one last time.

    It’s difficult to appreciate the benefits of the long-running,
    multiple-entry visa other than alleviating the paperwork of U.S.
    bureaucrats in Havana, whose offices are always jammed with Cubans
    seeking visas.

    “Cuba has done nothing to merit the expansion of visas,” Ros-Lehtinen
    said. “It may be good for some families who can afford all this back and
    forth, but it’s another opportunity for Castro to get rid of the
    discontented.

    “Meanwhile,” she added, “[U.S. subcontractor] Alan Gross languishes in a
    Cuban jail.”

    Nothing quite fits a genuine pattern of change.

    The future of Cuba — and by extension, that of Greater Miami’s — remains
    a chess game, and checkmate seems a long way off.

    Source: “Fabiola Santiago: The endless U.S.-Cuba chess game – Fabiola
    Santiago – MiamiHerald.com” –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/17/v-fullstory/3569162/fabiola-santiago.html