Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Upcoming Radio Interview, Christmas Photos, Happy New Year, More on US-Cuba Accords

On Jan. 7, I’ll be participating in an hour-long interview on my Cuba book by Donna Seebo,, who also interviewed me for my Honduras book. The live program will air on that date at 2 pm EST. After that, it will be available in the archives. Google ‘Donna Seebo’ and the ‘Donna Seebo Show,’ page link will pop up, tap on that and you’ll be taken directly to the show page itself. The green band on the left is for the program in progress, while yellow on the right is for archived programs. My book is a small slice of recent history, of my own history with Cuba, which predicted change, but not such an abrupt and sweeping change as has just occurred.
        I also have a conference call next Sunday with a human rights group in the UK about Cuban prisoner releases.
        The photos are from our Christmas Day gathering at the home of daughter Melanie’s friends Pat and Gerald and their 3 sons, as well as Gerald’s mother, shown with my great-grandson De’Andre. The oldest host-family son, who has autism (shown with my daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandson by the Christmas tree), recited for us all the presidents of the United States from beginning to end, something his mother said he has been able to do since age 5.
        Now, with New Year’s Day pending, ¡Feliz Año Nuevo!
        With another commercial aircraft disappearing in southeast Asia in the vicinity of Malaysia and Indonesia, one has to wonder if the pilots are carrying out suicide missions, taking their passengers down with them?

Cubans fear possible change to U.S. immigration law 

Across an island where migrating north is an obsession, the widespread jubilation over last week’s historic U.S-Cuba detente is soured by fear that warming relations will eventually end the Cuban Adjustment Act, a unique fast track to legal American residency. ASSOCIATED PRESS, December 26, 2014

I’ll spare you the whole article just mentioned. For several months now, I’ve been speculating about the ending of America’s wet-foot/dry-foot policy for Cuban immigrants, a policy that allowed me to bring Armando, my kidney patient, via Mexico, as he did also with his own son years later. However, as this article and as Cuban Americans contend, Congress has to act in order to completely eliminate this special treatment for Cubans. 
        While many Cuban American commentators have been critical of the Obama-Raul Castro accords, Ada Ferrer, Professor of History and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University, is cautiously optimistic, which is closest to my own feeling.

          Somewhat surprisingly, a commentator from the conservative Cato Institute, Doug Bandow, also supports the Cuba accords.

        Although 53 political prisoners were supposed to be released in the Obama-Castro deal, the Ladies in White say none have been released so far and that there are more than 53. As volunteer Caribbean coordinator for Amnesty International USA, I’ve been trying to make sure that our five Amnesty prisoners of conscience (POCs) are included for release: the three young Vargas brothers who had tried to protect their mother from an acto de repudio, afro-Cuban hunger striker Iván Fernández Depestre, and Emilio Planas Robert. (These are the only Amnesty POCs in the Americas.) I posted something about the promised Cuba prisoner release and our POCs on Facebook and saw that one reader (not Cuban) had translated it into Spanish and put it on her page, for which I am grateful. All are mentioned in my Cuba book. If anyone has or knows anyone with a Twitter account, let’s make their names go viral, so please have them post the following (143 characters & spaces):
Raul Castro: free now 5 Amnesty Int’l Prisoners of Conscience, 3 young Vargas brothers, Ivan Fernandez, & Emilio Planas, only POCs in Americas.
        The week before the accords announcement saw the release to house arrest of Sonia Garro, a vocal afro-Cuban member of the Ladies in White, who had been arrested in March 2012 along with her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz, and her neighbor, Eugenio Hernández. The three have never gone to trial. Whether they are included in the 53 is also uncertain. It has not been possible yet to determine who is on the release list.       
        José Manuel, the rafter librarian refugee who stayed at my house years ago, as mentioned in my new book (photo above at the beach with his aunt in 2010), had this to say: Pues es un tema que NO me interesa, y que en realidad no va a tener ningún beneficio para el cubano común, así que seria una perdida de mi valioso tiempo. Además de que a mis 50 años de edad, ya no me va a quedar vida para esperar a que Cuba vuelva a ser un país normal. [This is a subject that does NOT interest me and that, in reality, won’t have any benefit for the ordinary Cuban, so it would be a waste of my valuable time. Furthermore, I’m 50 years old and won’t live long enough to see Cuba become a normal country.] He said he doesn’t feel Cuban anymore and never plans to return there again.
        However, Armando, the kidney patient in my book (his little family photo with me ended up mysteriously at the end), feels optimistic. Por fin las relaciones entre nuestros paises van a mejorar. No se hasta que punto, pero me alegra saber eso. Por lo menos es el principio de nuevas relaciones y oportunidades. Ojala que todo sea para bien y que disminuyan los muertos en el mar. En cualquier momento aparece el primer McDonald’s en la Habana. Quizas ahora con los cambios al fin usted tenga la oportunidad de viajar a Cuba otra vez un dia. Yo estaria muy contento de que usted pueda viajar a mi pais otra vez de manera libre y tranquila. [Finally, relations between our countries are going to improve. I don’t know how much, but I’m happy about it. At least, it’s the beginning of new relationships and opportunities. Let’s hope it all turns out well and that deaths by sea will diminish. Any moment now, we’ll see the first McDonald’s in Havana. Maybe now with these changes, you will have a chance to finally travel to my country again someday. I would be very happy if you could travel to my country in a free and peaceful manner. [Armando is referring to my ejection from Cuba by State Security in 1997 and, though he hopes I will go back, I’m not quite ready to try that yet, especially after the revelations in my Cuba book.]
                A friend who is a staunch admirer of Fidel Castro, along the lines of the guy who inspired my Cuba book, had this to say: Congratulations to the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and Pope Francis, for their fabulous and inspiring collaboration in bringing at long last to an end the unjust and futile attempts to isolate and sabotage Cuba for having dared to adopt a socialist model of social and economic development, thereby isolating and rendering irrelevant the undue influence lobby of the extremist right-wing Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF) Miami lobby whose die hard right wing extremist ideologues are those who benefitted from the bloody dictatorship of Fulgencio Baptista [sic] until the genuine people’s Revolution cast off the yoke of that decadent racist authoritarian.
                Whew! Batista, who was of mixed race himself, wasn't particularly known for racism, despite his many other failings. And is CANF still a force? Since its founder died, haven't heard much about it. The above commentator, like many pro-Castro Americans, is caught in a time warp.
        Here’s another comment, again similar to what the guy who actually inspired me to write my Cuba book might say, indicating, as we all know, that extreme partisan polarization will probably increase on this issue, just like on many others. He credits Cuba with the “elimination of human misery” (a big surprise to most Cubans) and says that Cuba’s achievements have inspired other nations in the Americas “to choose a populist/socialist development strategy and tactics which assertively is [sic] not aligned with the dictates of the rightwing extremist neocon ideologues.” What about extreme leftwing ideologues?
        Feisty and quirky Independent Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont seems to be governing via press releases, putting forth his very own Cuba policy, relentlessly criticizing the US government, but never the Cuban leadership. He has constantly complained about leaks of information about American government democracy programs—information that he himself may well have leaked. He hasn’t missed a chance to berate USAID for Cuba democracy efforts, expressing outrage at their incompetence in trying to provoke “regime change” in Cuba. (Is regime support his desired objective?) At least twice in the last few months, he has railed against defunct “hip-hop” and “Twitter” programs aimed at Cuban youth. He thinks that by labeling them ineffective and misguided, that makes it so, though Cubans who were actually involved in them feel otherwise. In my Cuba book, I mention that he also held up funds designed to promote Cuban democracy. Yet, despite his scathing criticism of USAID, he was prominently on the delegation that brought Alan Gross back from Cuba, although Gross had gone to Cuba precisely for USAID. Is he a hypocrite or was his constant berating of efforts to support democracy activists in Cuba perhaps just a smokescreen to gain the trust of the Castro regime? That might be giving him too much credit.
        Somehow, I am on Leahy’s e-mail notification list, getting an electronic holiday card from him and his wife, smiling together outside in picturesque snowy Vermont. Since then, I’ve gotten two donation requests from him, asking for support already for his 2016 run—only in your dreams, Senator Leahy! One message says: Wow, what a way to end the year. Just over a week ago, I was flying down to Havana, Cuba in the middle of the night to pick up Alan Gross while President Obama was preparing to announce policies that would transform US-Cuba relations.
        Meanwhile, it has been revealed (if true) that he facilitated the artificial insemination of the wife of one of the imprisoned Cuban Five, who is now pregnant. (And he apparently has been eager to reveal his role.) That seems over the top, getting far too cozy with the Castro regime. In fact, there were reportedly 2 such attempts, as the first did not work. Semen is exempt from the embargo? The husband is Gerardo Hernandez, the convicted spy given two life terms for being most directly associated with advising the Cuba air force of the trajectory of a Brothers-to-the-Rescue plane that was then shot down, killing four men aboard. (Although the trial venue of Miami has been criticized, no Cuban Americans were on the jury.) Would Leahy advocate artificial insemination for either US female prisoners or the wives of male prisoners here? Would he have so eagerly transported sperm from an imprisoned supporter of Duvalier or Pinochet as a humanitarian gesture? What about for G’tmo prisoners? Is reproduction a human right, even for those incarcerated? What about all the folks in Cuban prisons now? Cuba has a very low birthrate, far below replacement, so maybe Leahy needs to help out prisoners there too.
        Before sanctimoniously accusing the US of using hip-hop artists in a plot to destabilize a foreign government through subversive songs, people need to understand the reality of trying to survive as an independent artist in Cuba, according to Cuban independent filmmaker and event producer Diddier Santos. “Who would you rather get money from? The Cuban government who will only give you money if you follow the party line or another government who will give you creative freedom to do what you want to do?” asked Santos, mentioning that he has gotten money from the government of Holland.
        Most people, once they take a stand, cling to it stubbornly and, if challenged, strengthen their opinion all the more in its defense. The NY Times’ Ernesto Londoño agreed to listen politely to Cuban dissidents, but declined to engage in conversation with them or to have his photo taken with them, though he had no such compunctions in his meetings with Castro regime leaders. Londoño’s relentless NYTimes editorials criticizing US Cuba policy have turned off me and some other readers, though perhaps others have been attracted by them. Of course, editorials are supposed to take a stand, which Londoño’s Cuba editorials certainly have done. Maybe the Times’ editorials were setting the stage and paving the way for Obama’s overtures towards Cuba? Meanwhile, the Times has targeted Dick Cheney’s role in authorizing torture, as it should, something condemned around the world, but has remained silent about the much longer lasting, continuing, and more extensive torture carried out by the Castro government, which the leadership there says is nobody’s business but their own as a sovereign nation, just as abuse within a family is often defended and protected. Already, after the announcement of the accords, democracy activists have been arrested. Where is the outcry? The Castro brothers truly are Teflon dictators. Yet, Marx and Engels must be turning over in their graves, seeing what communism has become the world over, including in Cuba.
        The Wall St. Journal, true to its orientation, is less enthusiastic about the Cuba deal. Conservative columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady asks “Who Benefits if the Embargo Is Lifted? The Castros already welcome foreign trade and investment. Fat lot of good it’s done for Cubans.” (12-22-14) and Nestor Carbonell follows up with “Mine Is Mine, Yours Is Negotiable” (12-26-14).
        A the same time, while criticizing and making fun of the North Korean regime appears totally acceptable, including releasing a comedy showing the assassination of its leader, films about the Castro regime are in variably romantic, inspiring, and laudatory. Not that the two countries, while allies, are completely comparable. Cuba is not as barbaric as North Korea, especially since Fidel retired, but it does have a dreadful history of firing squads, long prison sentences, and work camps for undesirables which should not be forgotten and simply swept under the rug. Cuba has long benefited from a double-standard applied to its dictatorial leadership. Just because the Castro brothers mouth platitudes about equality doesn’t make them so.
        People have been asking me if I am either thrilled or appalled, depending on their own position. I am neither, though surprised, yes, as I’d expected something before the end of the year, but nothing quite so sweeping.
        I’ve tried to make a list of pros and cons regarding the Cuba accords. On balance, I do favor them, though remain less enthusiastic than many more wholehearted supporters. I don’t know if Obama and the pope had any further way to press the Cuban government to recognize human rights. They were up against a deadline, not only that Alan Gross was despondent and possibly suicidal, but facing the impending arrival of a totally Republican Congress.
        I make the assumption that democracy is a superior form of government and that most people in Cuba and elsewhere would like to have the maximum freedom to decide on the rules and rulers governing them—also that the majority decides in the case of disagreements. In Cuba, the Castro regime self-righteously proclaims something like: “While we may do business with the United States and gladly accept any financial support, we are going to protect our Revolution and our benevolent socialist system,” actually meaning “our dictatorship.” Some Cubans may be comfortable with that, especially those who benefit by being in the inner circle, but that is not the majority. Why not put it to a vote?
        Here below is my own list of pros and cons regarding the Cuba-US accords.

1.   The status quo was not acceptable and was going nowhere. More than 50 years of a lack of formal relations have not resulted in much improvement in either human rights or economic development in Cuba. Most Cubans seemed stuck, not been achieving or producing anything useful for a long time. Something was needed to jar loose the situation and promote some forward movement. Efforts have been made by previous American presidents (during Fidel Castro’s time) to regularize relations, but agreement was never reached. Now, at long last, after decades, it finally has been.
2.   There was a need to reset the Cuba-US relationship on a non-violent, non-adversarial basis. US and world opinion increasingly favor the peaceful negotiated resolution of international disputes. Each side must begin building trust with the leadership of the other side. The agreement was a compromise—each side gave up something and gained something. Disagreements and negotiations can now occur more directly. Interests Section personnel will no longer be geographically and otherwise restricted when they become regular embassy employees.
3.   Arresting Cubans for being agents of the “empire” can no longer occur or will diminish.
4.   Cuba is no longer a major threat to the US or the world. This accord acknowledges that.
5.   Significant change in Cuba is unlikely during the lifetime of the Castro brothers, who are still living. Realistically, substantial change will probably not come to Cuba until after the Castro brothers’ deaths and they have been hanging on. So, let’s make things a bit easier for most people now and at least start the economic transition.
6.   The US does business with many other undemocratic regimes.
7.   Cuba is close geographically to the US and there are many families with members in both countries.
8.   A reset of the US-Cuba relationship offers more economic opportunities on both sides.
9.   Cultural and sports exchanges should increase.
10.     Most ordinary Cubans now seem excited and hopeful for the first time in years, many expecting the US to rescue them.
11.     A promise by the Cuban government to allow more internet access (though still restricted) will permit a greater flow of information (one of the main objectives of USAID programs there). (However, it also offers more opportunities for cyber-warfare against US targets.)
12.     Alan Gross and another American prisoner have been freed. Gross had been despondent and threatening suicide. Americans may not be arrested so quickly again. 
13.     Cuba has promised to release 53 political prisoners.
14.     The Obama administration wanted to stem the flow of refugees and prevent a refugee crisis. (Wet-foot/dry-foot is under fire, but may not be able to be eliminated without Congressional approval, so probably will remain at least for the next 2 years.)
15.     World and Latin American public opinion, particularly among leadership sectors, has long favored engagement between the US and Cuba (or, at least, has strongly criticized the previous US position). The US image has suffered because of enmity with Cuba. The agreement has been hailed around the world.
16.     American public opinion, including among Cuban Americans, has also largely favored greater engagement.
17.     Nations unfriendly to the US such as Venezuela, Russia, and North Korea were caught off-guard (and are probably none too happy).
18.     Most Americans don’t really care that much about the Cuba issue or else believe the US has been at fault. Most people here and around the world are unaware of the Cuban government’s systematic human rights abuses. They have bought the Cuban government’s narrative that the US is aggressing against poor little Cuba. (This could also be a “con” argument.)
19.     With so many even hotter trouble spots around the world, why remain focused on Cuba? 
20.     Obama wanted rapprochement with Cuba to be part of his legacy (and it is also part of the legacy of Pope Francis’s legacy as well as of Raul Castro).
21.     Making peace with the US was a big concession by the Cuban leadership, removing its main reason for oppressing dissidents. Anti-US rhetoric and actions may be reduced (but peaceful opponents are still being arrested).
22.     The majority of Cuban and American people have no enmity toward each other.
23.     The US and Cuba will both be able to attend the Summit of the Americas without conflict next April.
24.     Fewer political arrests and “actos de repudio” may occur. The Cuban leadership may become less harsh, feeling more secure in power and wanting to favorably impress American visitors and investors. 
25.     The Cuban leadership may become slightly more amenable to diplomatic persuasion for human rights (provided they don’t feel threatened in their own positions). The naming of ambassadors will allow the two nations to work out differences and agreements more directly.
26.     Perhaps, as in China, Peace Corps volunteers will be able to go to Cuba.
27.     The US does not have clean hands either in terms of civil and human rights.
28.     It’s a done deal anyway, so get over it. Too late now for “would’ve,” could’ve,” “should’ve.” Cuba is no longer an important nation, except among ideologues on both sides. We live in an imperfect world where compromises are necessary. Let it go. 

1.   The embargo in reduced form is still in place and the Cuba issue has created an even deeper and more bitter partisan political divide in the US. Political polarization in the US on Cuba will increase—it’s already happening. Some Republican lawmakers are vowing to block the naming of an ambassador to Cuba.
2.   Obama has acknowledged human rights abuses and the lack of democracy in Cuba, but nothing in the agreement addresses that crucial problem; democracy will not automatically and magically occur. The US will no longer have any obvious leverage for human rights advocacy. Already, since announcement of the agreement, peaceful demonstrators have been beaten and arrested by authorities. However, rather than being accused of being CIA agents, they are apparently now being accused of being agents of right-wing Miami Cubans.
3.   While many Cubans may be content to remain at home if there are more opportunities there, some are making plans to reach US soil before that door closes.
4.   American support for democracy efforts may totally cease. “Regime change” has become a dirty word.
5.   Cuban spies may more easily enter the US.
6.   Viet Nam and China still arrest political opponents despite economic and trade ties with the US; China still executes more people—sometimes even for property crimes--than the rest of the world combined. Cuban democracy activists have said they don’t want “Putinism”—now they are headed in that direction.
7.   Cubans will become more compliant and resigned, will not rebel, will never learn about or experience democracy. If even the mighty USA has capitulated to the regime, who can help them now to achieve free expression and association?
8.   With Venezuela on the ropes, the Cuban regime was about to go down with it—now the US has come to the rescue just when the regime was on its last legs (though we’ve heard that before).
9.   Trade with the US will not be a panacea for Cubans, any more that trade with the rest of the world has been.
10.                 Cuba has declared categorically that fugitives from American justice will not be returned. Whether Cubans held in American prisons will be returned is uncertain; up until now, Cuba has largely refused to accept them.
11.                 The Cuban government has promised to release 53 political prisoners, but, so far, apparently none have been released and independent human rights groups on the island say that is only half the actual number. Furthermore, there have been new arrests of peaceful demonstrators
12.                 Cuba has the only Amnesty International prisoners of conscience in the Americas. People will probably continue to be thwarted and arrested for peaceful association and expression. There will be no freedom allowed for non-communist elections.
13.                 The 3 “Cuban Five” prisoners released to Cuba have blood on their hands, especially Gerardo Hernandez, who allegedly was most directly involved in the deaths of 4 Brothers-to-the-Rescue volunteers. (Although their trial was considered biased by many commentators, no Cuban Americans were on the Five’s jury. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, a vocal critic of USAID programs in Cuba, even reportedly facilitated a successful artificial insemination of Hernandez’s wife in Cuba.)
14.                 Corruption and the power of the military, already extensive, will increase in Cuba.
15.                 The devil is in the details, still to be worked out. In China and Viet Nam, visitors can pay service providers directly—will this happen in Cuba? Will visitors be able to travel freely? Will individuals not affiliated with a government-approved tour be able to travel in Cuba and just hang out with ordinary people? So far, it looks like only prearranged tours, authorized and staffed by the Cuban government, meaning by its loyalists, will be permitted. With luck, freer commerce, as in China and Viet Nam, will be permitted, but that is not allowed yet. Can workers for foreign investors be paid directly, rather than through the government? Will medical personnel sent abroad be able to keep more of the payment for their services? Canadian entrepreneurs have been arrested and their assets have been seized. If economic controls are not relaxed, it may be too hard for outsiders to do business in Cuba. (A Canadian businessman was given 15 years for giving direct bonuses to his employees and his business seized on that pretext.)
16.                 The US has a strict policy of not paying ransom for captives, but paid quite a lot for Gross. It also is paying Gross $3.2 million in compensation. Grabbing Gross turned out to be a crucial investment for the Cuban regime.                                                                                                                                                                                     
17.                 A majority of UN members voted to review human rights abuses in North Korea, but not in Cuba. There will apparently be no review or recognition of the long history of human rights violations in Cuba, no truth and reconciliation commission. Cuban human rights violators will enjoy impunity in a whitewashing of past and recent history.
18.                 Tourism and trade with the whole world besides the US has not resulted in Cuban authorities recognizing human and civil rights. Cuba remains a one-party communist state.
19.                 Other Caribbean tourist destinations may attract fewer visitors. Eventually, Cuba will become, after a surge of initial interest, just one more US tourist destination among many, losing its unique character.
20.                 Dissidents, former political prisoners, and the families of the 4 Brothers-to-the-Rescue volunteers killed by the Cuban air force feel shocked, abandoned, isolated, and betrayed.
21.                 Ordinary Cubans may expect too much of this agreement and become discouraged and disappointed when their expectations do not materialize quickly enough.
22.                 Likewise, they may never get into the habit of thinking for themselves; it takes time for a people to transition from a totalitarian system, but now that process may not even begin.
In terms of sheer number of items listed, the pros have it by a modest margin.  


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pakistan Massacre, Visit to Son’s Grave, Another Peace Corps Reunion, March Against Police Violence, South Sudan, Castro’s Peace Prize, Rafter Boat Sunk, Cuba-US Rapprochement, Pope Francis Does It Again, Interpretation Session

After my condolences were e-mailed to a man in Pakistan in the wake of the slaughter of school kids there, he replied: Thanks dear mom, it is very unfortunate. The barbaric act led to killing of our innocent children. Nation will not forgive them and we are not going to leave them scot free. Pray for us.

To observe the 20th anniversary of his death, my daughter Melanie and granddaughter Natasha made a visit with me out to the country where my older son Andrew is buried. His grave was quite overgrown, but we managed to clean it up. (See photos, which got slightly out of order when posted.)
        Had a good visit with my former Honduras Peace Corps buddy Mitch and his family, now living in Austin, Texas. In the photo, I’m giving him a copy of my Cuba book.
        Two young women staying with me now are Friends (Quakers) and attended the march here on Dec. 13 against police shootings of unarmed black men. My granddaughter’s friends were also there. All said they felt inspired and energized by being in such a large interracial crowd. I was reminded of when my late ex-husband and I participated in MLKing’s “I have a dream” speech and march, much larger of course.
        Ethiopia and other neighbors of South Sudan are threatening sanctions unless the leaders of that new country stop fighting and start cooperating. As someone who went to South Sudan before independence, I’ve been mourning the current rift in a brand new, impoverished country with almost no infrastructure and a history of war that it can ill afford to continue.   
          Anna, a friend I first met in Colombia and who visited me in Honduras, as per my Honduras book, has ended up in the hospital, though miraculously not killed in a freak accident. But, then, accidents by their very nature are freak. She was out walking after dark, looking for where her car was parked in her retirement complex, when a pickup truck belonging to the complex ran over her. Then, sensing that he had hit something, the driver backed up over her again, compounding the damage. She is 77 years old and has already been in the hospital for a month with multiple fractures of both legs. What can be said about something like that? Only that she is phenomenally unlucky, though lucky to be still alive, but, then, luck is capricious, as we all know. Our very conception and birth are matters of chance, as is our continued existence.
          Fidel Castro, the 88-year-old Cuban Communist revolutionary, added another line to his résumé when a Chinese group awarded him this year’s Confucius Peace Prize, as reported in Chinese state media. The award was given to him in absentia. That Fidel Castro’s name should be associated with peace is rather a joke, given his brutal history. The award was apparently created to counter the Nobel Peace Prize.
        Cuba RAMMED, SUNK Refugee Boat One Day Before Obama’s Decision To Ease Sanctions, Daily Caller, 12-22-14. Apparently a refugee boat in international waters was rammed, then sunk by the Cuban Coast Guard, with some passengers still missing and others arrested. That news was pretty much eclipsed by President Obama’s historic announcement.
        The US has also been demanding the return from Cuba of a number of fugitives from the law, including Joanne Chesimard, accused of killing a NJ State trooper. Such matters will be subject to future negotiations, but Chesimard is unlikely to be returned, in my opinion. Also, Cuba said it will not negotiate about returning American fugitives.
        Now that Alan Gross has been released in exchange (though it was pointedly stated otherwise) for the 3 remaining Cuban Five prisoners here in the US, time will tell whether Cuban-American relations progress and whether Cuban citizen repression continues unabated. (See Cuban Five billboard, one of many in Cuba.) Readers, please indulge my ramblings here, as I’m trying to get my bearings and sort out my thinking on the current state of US-Cuba relations. Certainly the previous US approach to Cuba was not working, that was President Obama’s strongest argument, and this change may actually result in an improvement, like Nixon to China. Probably the Cuban regime was ready to deal because of apprehension about the reliability of continued support from their patron, Venezuela, which has major problems if its own.
        I suspect that the best we can hope for now is a greater economic opening in Cuba together with continued political repression, as in both China and Viet Nam. Still, that will be better for most Cubans. Maybe, as in China, we can even send Peace Corps volunteers to Cuba. The changed tone of the relationship allows more possibilities. President Obama has acknowledged the failures of human and civil rights in Cuba, but perhaps has decided there is little to be done about that and that half a loaf if better than none. He had to get Alan Gross out of prison—the Cuban regime’s seizing of Gross was a very smart investment on their part—and we live in an imperfect world where compromises are necessary. That’s realpolitik. Meanwhile, dissidents do feel abandoned and the families of the four Brothers-to-Rescue whose deaths were attributed to one of the Cuban Five are anguished. I can understand their dismay. And as an Amnesty International and human rights activist, I cannot to forget Cuban human rights advocates on the island, though helping them achieve free expression and assembly will not get any easier. After Raul and Fidel pass on, more changes are possible, even likely. I'm trying to maintain a realistic optimism about the situation.     
        As an interpreter myself, I do envy the interpreter on the 45-minute phone conversation between Obama and Raul Castro, which would have been very interesting to witness, though interpreters must maintain strict confidentiality.
        I had a premonition that something was going to happen before the end of the year, though I didn’t expect it to be so sweeping. Before the Republicans took over the Senate, I thought that some steps would be taken by the Obama administration, so I was trying to promote, at least, an economic opening more like China's, whereby outsiders can purchase services directly from local citizens instead of paying the state, but I don't know that my message ever reached anyone with influence. If I had been able to give a presentation on my new book, I would have said as much.        
         As for re-establishing embassies and diplomatic relations, the respective embassies have never totally closed--they just have been converted into "Interests Sections." They already function much like embassies, granting visas, arranging meetings, etc., so it's partly a matter of name changes. Crucially, however, they do not engage directly with the other government and their staff movements within the “host” country are restricted in both cases. Two months ago, I was at a meeting at the State Dept. with the new US Interests Section head in Havana, Jeffery DeLaurentis, and everyone at the meeting addressed him as "Mr. Ambassador," though apparently he had been an ambassador in a previous post, so that was proper protocol. “Mr. Head of US Interests Section” or “Mr. Chief of Mission” would have seemed a bit awkward. I imagine that DeLaurentis would be considered for the ambassador post. In fact, he may have been named in anticipation of that transition. On the other hand, since the Cuba-US accords represent a brand new policy, perhaps he will be swept out with the “old,” though his tenure will have been short, and someone brand new may then be brought in. Typically, ambassadors must be acceptable to the host country. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers are threatening to block any ambassador nominations to Cuba.
        We shall have to see if these changes in US-Cuba relations result in fewer political arrests--certainly the excuse for arresting people as agents of "the empire" should diminish. Maybe if they feel more secure in power, Cuban leaders won’t be as harsh against those who disagree with them and fewer Cubans will actually be discontent. Also, "actos de repudio" may go down if tourism increases, because tourists might witness such acts. But rhetoric and habits won't change overnight. If the Castro brothers were no longer living, obviously more changes would be possible.
        “I want to see now who they blame for the economic collapse and lack of freedoms we have in Cuba,” independent blogger Yoani Sanchez tweeted after Obama’s announcement.
        I tend to agree with Ada Ferrer, Professor of History and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University, that there is much excitement on both sides because of the change, but we really don't know yet how it will play out. The devil is in the details.
        The main argument for change has been that after more than 50 years, the current policy has not worked in undermining the Castro brothers' control and that much of the world, especially among Latin American leaders, has condemned US Cuba policy and has supported the Castros. China does seem to be Raul's model--an economic opening, while maintaining tight political control. I predicted as much in my book.
        In Cuba now, Lady in White Sonia Garro, her husband, and her neighbor have all been released to house arrest after more than 2 ½ years in pretrial detention, so maybe our efforts at Amnesty International have made a difference, though more probably, her release was in anticipation of the Cuba-US accord. NYTimes’ editorial writer Londoño might do well now to comment on her situation as an afro-Cuban member of the Ladies in White mercilessly harassed by Rapid Response Brigades and soldiers who subjected her and her husband to repeated acts of repudiation. Wanting to change a regime that subjects its citizens to such outrages is a crime?
        Therefore, now I have taken a “wait and see” attitude toward the new policy, which, like anything in life, is something of a gamble. It seems that Obama is counting on improved diplomatic relations and more American money flowing into to Cuba to improve life for most people on the island, even if their civil liberties are curtailed and political arrests continue. For most Cubans, bread-and-butter does top civil rights, which they have never enjoyed anyway.
        Rightly or wrongly, America’s Cuba policy has been condemned around the world, especially in Latin America, so now much of the grounds for that criticism has been removed. However, any condemnation of the Castro brothers for their decades of human rights abuses will probably have to wait until after they are no longer with us, even if they survive after Raul steps down from the presidency four years hence. Any investigation into the recent suspicious deaths of Oswaldo Payá, Laura Pollán, and other dissidents will have to be deferred. Dictators often have sufficient followers while still living to make investigation almost impossible, even if they are no longer formally in office. We’ve seen that happen in Latin America with Pinochet, Duvalier, and Rios Montt, to name just a few.

        Unlike the Times, the Washington Post has condemned the US-Cuba deal, (2)

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:
Obama gives the Castro regime in Cuba an undeserved bailout
In recent months, the outlook for the Castro regime in Cuba was growing steadily darker. The modest reforms it adopted in recent years to improve abysmal economic conditions had stalled, due to the regime’s refusal to allow Cubans greater freedoms. Worse, the accelerating economic collapse of Venezuela meant that the huge subsidies that have kept the Castros afloat for the past decade were in peril. A growing number of Cubans were demanding basic human rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly.
On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout — from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action. Full diplomatic relations will be established, Cuba’s place on the list of terrorism sponsors reviewed and restrictions lifted on U.S. investment and most travel to Cuba. That liberalization will provide Havana with a fresh source of desperately needed hard currency and eliminate U.S. leverage for political reforms.
As part of the bargain, Havana released Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor who was unjustly imprisoned five years ago for trying to help Cuban Jews. Also freed was an unidentified U.S. intelligence agent in Cuba — as were three Cuban spies who had been convicted of operations in Florida that led to Cuba’s 1996 shootdown of a plane carrying anti-Castro activists. While Mr. Obama sought to portray Mr. Gross’s release as unrelated to the spy swap, there can be no question that Cuba’s hard-line intelligence apparatus obtained exactly what it sought when it made Mr. Gross a de facto hostage.
No wonder Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s leading dissident blogger, concluded Wednesday that “Castroism has won” and predicted that for weeks Cubans will have to endure proclamations by the government that it is the “winner of its ultimate battle.”
Mr. Obama argued that his sweeping change of policy was overdue because the strategy of isolating the Communist regime “has had little effect.” In fact, Cuba has been marginalized in the Americas for decades, and the regime has been deprived of financial resources it could have used to spread its malignant influence in the region, as Venezuela has done. That the embargo has not succeeded in destroying communism does not explain why all sanctions should be lifted without any meaningful political concessions by Cuba.
U.S. officials said the regime agreed to release 53 political prisoners and allow more access to the Internet. But Raúl Castro promised four years ago to release all political prisoners, so the White House has purchased the same horse already sold to the Vatican and Spain.
The administration says its move will transform relations with Latin America, but that is naive. Countries that previously demanded an end to U.S. sanctions on Cuba will not now look to Havana for reforms; instead, they will press the Obama administration not to sanction Venezuela. Mr. Obama says normalizing relations will allow the United States to be more effective in promoting political change in Cuba. That is contrary to U.S. experience with Communist regimes such as Vietnam, where normalization has led to no improvements on human rights in two decades. Moreover, nothing in Mr. Obama’s record of lukewarm and inconstant support for democratic change across the globe can give Ms. Sánchez and her fellow freedom fighters confidence in this promise.
The Vietnam outcome is what the Castros are counting on: a flood of U.S. tourists and business investment that will allow the regime to maintain its totalitarian system indefinitely. Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life.

Here’s another dissent:

The Cuban people will pay the price for Obama's careless concessions  Roger F. Noriega  

The Cuban regime's decision to release American hostage Alan Gross to celebrate Hanukkah with his family is long overdue, welcome news. Gross is free today; 11 million Cubans are not. President Obama's decision to move toward normalizing diplomatic relations with the Castro regime resuscitates a gasping dictatorship without even asking for anything in return. (Full Story: Noriega on CNBC.)

Some opposition figures on the island have condemned the US-Cuba pact as an abandonment of themselves and of democracy and a legitimizing of authoritarianism, as expressed in the following Spanish-language post, which also says that, at best, only half of political prisoners are to be released.
Although the Castro regime is a dictatorship that has treated too many Cubans cruelly for their peaceful expression and assembly, nonetheless, more than half a century of sanctions and lack of formal relations with the US have not stopped that. As I say in my Cuba book, Obama has seemed to be trying to offer a carrot rather than a stick, since the stick obviously hasn’t worked. More economic development in Cuba, stemming from improved relations, will improve the economic well-being of many ordinary Cubans, while, admittedly at the same time bolstering support for the Castro brothers and their inner circle. It’s a trade-off. Probably the Castro regime was willing to make this deal because of the probability of failing support from Venezuela. As I mention in my new book, sanctions worked in South Africa, but that was because the whole world got behind them and they were of relatively short duration. The Cuban regime has won the PR battle in terms of world opinion and has managed to maintain moral support and trade even after the USSR crumbled. Fifty years is long enough to test out a policy. Apparently, even President Kennedy was considering outreach to Castro before he was assassinated.
        I have gone on too long on this matter in this posting, though, obviously will have more to say as events unfold.
        Pope Francis was reportedly a key player in brokering the Cuba-US prisoner exchange and diplomatic accords. I’ve also been glad to see Francis taking a more conciliatory approach than his predecessor toward American nuns, who do so much of the church’s front-line work with children and people in need. Again, he has struck the right tone, trying to bring everyone together. Another example is his offer to help close G’tmo—not sure what he can do there, but the intent is welcome.

        I just did an interpretation which exemplified what it means to be “on call,” being called only 20 minutes beforehand and told to be there at noon. It was pouring rain and, of course, I got soaked. Also, the metro was running slowly due to a water main break earlier and I had to take 2 trains, then walk several blocks. When I got to the designated apartment building (having been given no name or phone number), I looked through an outside directory in vain, trying to guess who my clients might be and where they might live. The front door was locked. I was about to leave when I noticed a hidden doorway under the stairs. Down there, I found an underground warren of tiny windowless apartments, one of which was the one I was looking for. I can scarcely believe these are legal abodes. Inside, I found a “vision therapist” (never worked with one before) and a child under two who looked familiar, though much younger when I last saw him and living elsewhere. His grandmother cares for him while the mother works. The circumstances for such kids are not optimal, especially for those with developmental disabilities. He was also getting speech, physical, and occupational therapy, according to the grandmother, all as part of DC’s early intervention program. On my way home on the metro, still soaking wet, a young man who said he was moving to Colorado, which gets little rain, gave me his umbrella.