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By Global Public Square staff
Remember last December when President Barack Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raúl Castro at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, and got a lot of criticism for it? In truth it didn't signal any sort of a real rapprochement between the United States and Cuba. The Cuban rapprochement of note is a different one – with Vladimir Putin, who recently made the long trip to Havana.
While there, Putin forgave about $32 billion worth of debt that Cuba had accrued from the former Soviet Union decades ago and that Russia had inherited – that's 90 percent of Cuba's outstanding debt to Moscow.
In addition, Russian officials recently confirmed that Cuba has also provisionally agreed to reopen a spy post. This eavesdropping facility, 150 miles off the coast of Florida, allowed Russia to spy on the United States until it closed in 2001. (Putin denied claims that he's reopening the listening post in Cuba, but many experts doubt his denial).
What in the world is going on? FULL POST
By Kevin O’Donnell
GPS intern Kevin O’Donnell speaks with Jorge Dominguez, professor of Mexico studies at Harvard University, faculty associate of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and the author of numerous books on Cuba, about relations with the United States. The views expressed here are his own.
It seems discussion about Cuba in the United States rests on some outdated assumptions. What assumptions do you believe Americans need to challenge when we talk about Cuba?
I think the main point to bear in mind is that it’s changing. When Fidel Castro was president, there were moments when things seemed to be changing in two important ways, and both times he reversed them. In the late 1970s and early 80s, the Cuban government opened up the possibility of allowing farmers to sell their goods at market prices. But he cancelled that and prohibited those sales in 1985.
In the early 1990s, he authorized self-employment for the first time. I could become a plumber in private practice, I could become an ice cream vender, I could have a restaurant in my living room. But then, in the early years of the last decade, regulations became more onerous and taxes became very high, and the number of people who could afford this kind of work actually declined.
This time, under Raul Castro, it looks as if these same changes will stay, so now farmers can sell their products at market price. Now about half a million people have self-employment licenses in a population of just over 11 million people.
It’s a significant fraction of the work force working in the private sector. But also, Raul Castro talks the talk – these are changes he values. So the alignment between the policy changes and what the top leader thinks for the first time in over a half century now clicks. That is a significant change. FULL POST
By Ric Herrero, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ric Herrero is the executive director of #CubaNow, a Miami-based democracy advocacy group. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Late last month, 44 former high-level U.S. officials and thought leaders, including prominent members of the Cuban-American community, signed a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to revise our Cuba policy to allow Americans to better engage with the island’s growing civil society, particularly its fledgling entrepreneurial sector.
The logic behind the letter is simple: by empowering the Cuban people with more access to U.S. contacts and resources, they can create greater freedoms for themselves.
Unfortunately, that concept appears to be too difficult to understand for those who depend on keeping things just the way they are. Almost immediately, the predictable responses began to flow from a tag team of shrill hardliners in Washington DC and Havana, all trying to protect the status quo.
In Washington, the pro-embargo lobby – or what is left of them – began to mischaracterize the letter as a “concession” to the regime, and cherry picked quotes by some dissidents and exile leaders to make it seem as if there is widespread opposition to increasing support for Cuban civil society.
By Fareed Zakaria
In the midst of the extraordinary spectacle of Nelson Mandela's funeral – in a stadium with some 90,000 mourners, including more than 90 heads of government – a small gesture caught the world's attention. President Barack Obama moved to greet Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil. On his way, he shook hands with the person to Rousseff’s right. The photograph of that handshake ricocheted around the world. Understandably, because the man Obama shook hands with was Raul Castro, president of Cuba.
Remember, the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba, and has a tight trade embargo in place against the island nation. So, many wondered whether this handshake was the beginning of a great shift in policy.
I hope so. Let's begin by asking whether the existing policy is working. In 1960, the United States enacted an embargo against Cuba. Its purpose was simple and explicit: regime change. Did it work? Well, until he retired from the presidency in 2008, Fidel Castro was the longest serving head of government in the world. Surely that's about as powerful evidence as one can get that the policy did not work and is not working.
Barack Obama has won reelection as America’s president. But while the economy – and avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff – will inevitably take up much of his time, there are numerous foreign policy challenges facing the next administration. GPS asked 10 leading foreign policy analysts to name 10 things that Obama should focus on next. The views expressed are, of course, the authors' own.
Keep Arab Spring on track
By Kenneth Roth
Kenneth Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch.
The biggest human rights challenge facing President Obama in his second term is finding ways to help keep on track the reform agenda that launched the Arab Spring. Most important is ending the horrible slaughter of civilians in Syria. Obama should stop pretending that Russia’s and China’s obstructionism absolves the U.S. of responsibility to continue ratcheting up pressure to stop the atrocities.
In Egypt, the regional trendsetter, Obama has properly said he respects the election that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, but now he should press the government, like all others, to respect basic rights, including of women and minorities. In Libya, Obama should stop treating the country as a “mission accomplished” and actively help elected authorities build the rule of law. And Obama should keep his promise to “promote reform across the region” and stop the discrediting double standard of making exceptions for U.S. allies, whether friendly monarchs or Israel.
By Dave Trifunov, GlobalPost
Fidel Castro took just enough time to return jabs at Republican presidential candidates today, calling the GOP leadership race “the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been,” Huffington Post reported.
In a newspaper column published today by state media, the revolutionary Cuban leader suggested the hardline Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney took against his island nation shows there is little hope for Republicans.
"The selection of a Republican candidate for the presidency of this globalized and expansive empire is – and I mean this seriously – the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been," Castro wrote, according to HuffPo.
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Can you remember what explosive crisis America and the world was fixated on last summer? It wasn't the deficit, jobs or Europe. It was an oil disaster. Remember the BP spill? Tons of crude gushing into the Gulf of Mexico? Well, in the weeks and months that followed, there was a lot of discussion about how to make sure it didn't happen again.
But what struck me this week is that we have a new dangerous drilling zone right on our doorstep - Cuba. Estimates suggest that the island nation has reserves of anywhere from 5 billion to 20 billion barrels of oil. The high end of those estimates would put Cuba among the top dozen oil producers in the world.
Predictably, there's a global scramble for Havana. A Chinese-constructed drilling rig is owned by an Italian oil company and is on its way to Cuban waters. Spain's Repsol, Norway's Statoil and India's ONGC will use the 53,000 ton rig to explore for oil. Petro giants from Brazil, Venezuela, Malaysia and Vietnam are also swooping in.
Editor's Note: Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.
By Christopher Sabatini, Americas Quarterly
The people-power revolutions that ousted the decades-old autocratic governments of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and are rocking the rest of the Middle East have prompted Cuba watchers –yet again– to wonder when the last redoubt of Cold War dictatorship in the hemisphere is next. It isn't, and we have U.S. policy partly to blame. FULL POST
HAVANA, Cuba — There was no mention of it in the pages of Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, but when word came that Cuban authorities were considering the legalization of same-sex civil unions, it was a cause for quiet celebration here.
The announcement was made by Mariela Castro, daughter of Raul Castro and the director of Cuba’s national sex education center, during an interview with Spanish broadcaster Cadena Ser earlier this month. Castro, the island’s leading gay rights advocate, said Cuban authorities are already studying the proposal in preparation for the upcoming Community Party conference on Jan. 28. FULL POST
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
What got my attention recently was the video above of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro shooting the breeze in their track suits.
Fidel Castro, of course, led Cuba for 50 years, starting in 1959. His pal Hugo Chavez has been president of Venezuela since 1999.
Chavez has been in Cuba to undergo chemotherapy for his recently revealed cancer.
He could have summoned the very best doctors to his home. He was invited to go to a world class cancer facility in Brazil. But he chose Havana.
Cuba has a cheap and surprisingly good healthcare system, but Chavez's attachment to Cuba is more than just medical - it's political. He's making the statement that he supports the Cuban model.
Unfortunately, that model is crumbling. It is totally out of sync with the modern world. FULL POST
On news that Fidel Castro resigned from the Central Committee of Cuba's Communist Party, my colleague Ishaan Tharoor over at TIME's Global Spin blog reached into the magazine's archives to pull out the cover story on Fidel Castro from January 26, 1959. Here's an excerpt:
Fidel Castro himself is egotistic, impulsive, immature, disorganized. A spellbinding romantic, he can talk spontaneously for as much as five hours without strain. He hates desks—behind which he may have to sit to run Cuba. He sleeps irregularly or forgets to sleep, living on euphoria. He has always been late for everything, whether leading a combat patrol or speaking last week to the Havana Rotary Club, where a blue-ribbon audience waited 4¾ hours for his arrival...
The recent uprisings in the Middle East have stirred up often surprising emotions and fears in Cuba, where brothers Fidel and Raul Castro have ruled for more than 50 years.
Cuban dissidents were quick to champion the cause of the young protesters in Tunisia and Egypt while exiles wondered out loud if Cuba’s communist government wouldn’t be the next to fall.
Prominent blogger Yoani Sanchez followed the events with daily tweets. On the day Hosni Mubarak fled, she declared: “Right now I feel like I’m in Cairo. I am shouting and celebrating with them. I call all my friends to say: there is one less dictator!”
The government she so frequently criticizes also threw its support behind the “revolutionary rebellion” in Egypt, comparing protesters to the ragtag rebels led by former president Fidel Castro in 1959.