Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
We run various sites in defense of human rights and need support to pay for more powerful servers. Thank you.
Archives
Recent Comments

    Obama arrives in Cuba; hopes visit will usher in change

    Obama arrives in Cuba; hopes visit will usher in change
    By Kevin Liptak, CNN White House Producer
    Updated 1139 GMT (1939 HKT) March 21, 2016

    Story highlights
    The presidential trip to Havana is the culmination of a three-year
    effort to restore ties to the island
    The regime in Havana has shown little movement toward improving human
    rights or opening its state-run economy

    Havana (CNN)President Barack Obama touched down in Cuba on Sunday,
    definitively ending a half-century of estrangement in a dramatic
    personal demonstration of his core foreign policy principle of engaging
    America’s enemies.

    It’s a shift that the change-minded president hopes will nudge the
    Communist government here to grant more freedoms to its people and open
    new economic channels for American businesses. The President and his
    allies also hope a successful détente will offer something bigger: a
    lasting example of diplomacy’s power in dealing with longtime foes.

    Just before Obama stepped from Air Force One — carrying an umbrella as
    a persistent rain fell on the tarmac — he sent a message to Cubans on a
    platform that until recently would have been unheard of in the
    repressive regime.

    “¿Que bolá Cuba?” he wrote on Twitter, using an informal Cuban greeting.
    “Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly
    from the Cuban people.”

    On Sunday, his interactions with everyday Cubans were carefully
    calibrated. He toured the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate
    Conception, greeting Cardinal Jaime Ortega, a key proponent of improving
    ties between the U.S. and Cuba. Crowds had gathered in the faded
    colonial streets of Old Havana to glimpse Obama and his family as they
    passed through on foot.

    Later in the evening, Obama dined at a “paladar” — one of hundreds of
    privately-run restaurants that only recently became permissible in the
    state-run economy.

    Those types of businesses — along with new investments from American
    firms — give U.S. officials hope that Cuba is on a path to finally
    opening its economy after decades of isolation.

    But the final verdict on Obama’s Cuba policy has yet to be rendered.
    Those economic changes have been slow, and human rights are still
    blatantly ignored in parts of the island.

    That was illustrated Sunday, when scores of anti-Castro dissidents from
    the group Ladies in White were arrested and detained after their weekly
    protest in Havana. CNN witnessed dozens of protesters being driven from
    the site in buses.

    Jose Daniel Ferrer, a Cuban dissident who was imprisoned for eight years
    beginning in 2008, said Obama could act like President Ronald Reagan,
    demanding immediate improvements in human rights just as Reagan demanded
    the Soviet Union “tear down this wall.”

    But Ferrer, speaking in an interview with CNN in his home Sunday,
    conceded that even incremental change is beneficial to the island’s
    politically oppressed citizenry.

    “Obama’s visit is good for the people and good for the cause,” he said.
    Ferrer is among the dissidents meeting Obama on Tuesday.

    Challenges aside, the sight of Air Force One landing at Havana’s Jose
    Marti Airport in the early evening on Sunday nonetheless represented a
    diplomatic metamorphosis that few could have imagined even five years ago.

    “My view is that this is the beginning, not the end, of what is going to
    be a journey that takes some time,” Obama told CNN in an interview ahead
    of the trip.

    U.S. eases restrictions on Cuba links as Obama visit nears

    “This is a matter of us engaging directly with the Cuban people and
    being able to have candid, tough conversations directly with the Cuban
    government,” Obama said. “We will have more influence and have greater
    capacity to advocate on behalf of the values that we care about when
    we’re actually talking to them.”

    The presidential trip to Havana is the culmination of a three-year
    effort to restore ties to the island, which sits 90 miles from Key West,
    Florida, but has long been off-limits for most American visitors. For
    decades, the island was regarded as a Cold War adversary, a forbidden
    place run by bearded strongmen that residents fled on makeshift rafts.

    Following in the path of the Obamas
    With his family in tow, Obama hopes to change that perception,
    highlighting the country’s emerging private economy and meeting with
    outspoken opponents of the Castro regime. Before he departed, Obama met
    with Cuban-Americans in a bid to garner support for his diplomatic thaw,
    which is still met with skepticism among many in the large Cuban
    diaspora in South Florida and elsewhere. Several of the participants in
    the meeting will join Obama on his trip.

    With relaxed restrictions on who can travel to Cuba, many more Americans
    will now able to follow the Obamas’ lead. And administration officials
    hope improved economic ties can foster a new dynamic between individual
    Cubans and Americans.

    U.S. airlines sign up for commercial flights to Cuba

    But critics of Obama’s policy, including outspoken Cuban-American
    members of Congress such as Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz
    and Democrat Robert Menendez, argue the opening only rewards an
    authoritarian regime — one that has yet to show much sign of reform.

    Obama will tend to the Cuban government while here, sitting Monday for
    his third bilateral meeting with leader Raul Castro since taking office
    and participating in the usual trappings of an official presidential
    visit, including a formal welcoming ceremony and a state dinner at the
    Revolutionary Palace.

    But he’ll also peel away for less formal encounters, allowing the
    presidential spotlight to also shine on ordinary Cubans living in a new
    era, including during an address to the Cuban people during a speech
    broadcast on state television, and the meeting with anti-Castro dissidents.

    Before he departs Tuesday, Obama will watch the Cuban national baseball
    team play the Tampa Bay Rays, in town for an exhibition game as U.S.
    Major League Baseball works to update immigration rules for Cuban players.

    The sight of a sitting American president setting foot on the island
    will be a novelty for most Cubans. The last U.S. leader to visit was
    Calvin Coolidge, who voyaged into Havana Harbor on a battleship in 1928.
    This time, Obama’s aides want to project a far different image.

    Cuba’s Internet isolation beginning to lift

    “There’s great anticipation here for the visit,” said Jeffrey
    DeLaurentis, the top American diplomat in the recently reopened U.S.
    Embassy in Havana. “We want to broaden the engagement underway.”

    That engagement began in December 2014, when Obama announced he was
    working to reopen long-frozen diplomatic ties to the island. The
    declaration was punctuated by the release of Alan Gross, an American
    prisoner in Cuba, in exchange for Cubans held in American jails.

    Since then, the U.S. government has steadily removed restrictions on
    travel and commerce between the neighboring countries. Last week,
    officials announced some of the biggest changes, including allowing
    Cubans to open U.S. bank accounts and permitting Americans to travel
    here individually, rather than as a group, for educational or cultural
    reasons.

    You’ve got mail
    The first mail flight between the two countries since 1968 arrived in
    Havana from Miami on Wednesday, carrying on it a letter from Obama to a
    Havana coffee shop owner, a response to a series of missives he’d
    received ahead of his trip.

    It’s still difficult to get here as an American; charter flights remain
    the only option until U.S. carriers resume regular flights later this year.

    But once those flights are underway, U.S. officials expect a steady flow
    of American visitors that will outlast Obama’s presidency.

    “We very much want to make the process of normalization irreversible,”
    said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser and a chief
    draftsman of the Cuba policy.

    What you need to know before traveling to Cuba

    Rhodes and Obama have cited Cuba — along with a brokered deal with Iran
    to end its nuclear program — as successful evidence of the President’s
    2009 inaugural vow to “extend a hand” to traditional U.S. foes.

    But without congressional action to lift a longstanding trade embargo,
    there’s little Obama can do to fully restore economic ties to Cuba. He
    told CNN he didn’t expect lawmakers to take action while he’s in office.

    “My strong prediction is that sometime in the next president’s
    administration, whether they are a Democrat or a Republican, that the
    embargo in fact will be removed,” he said.

    The current Congress has shown little appetite for such a move.

    “There has not been a single democratic opening; not a single change on
    the island in human rights,” Rubio, at the time a GOP presidential
    candidate, said during a CNN debate last week. “In fact, things are
    worse than they were before this opening.”

    He continued, “The only thing that’s changed as a result of this opening
    is that now the Cuban government has more sources of money from which to
    build out their repressive apparatus and maintain themselves there
    permanently.”

    While most Republicans in Congress have expressed little interest in
    lifting the blanket restrictions, Obama has found some bipartisan support.

    “If there’s one policy that has aided the Castros, that’s kept them in
    power, it’s the travel ban and the embargo,” Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona
    Republican who will travel with Obama to Cuba, told CNN in an interview.
    “It’s given them a convenient excuse for the failure of socialism. So we
    ought to remove that crutch. We’re doing so. And I think we’ll move
    ahead more quickly now.”

    Source: Obama in Cuba: Will visit usher in change? – CNNPolitics.com –
    edition.cnn.com/2016/03/20/politics/obama-cuba-arrival-change/index.html?eref=rss_world