The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Cuba’s Removal From Terrorism List May Prove More Symbolic Than Business-Friendly

By Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — Regulations governing the United States’ new commercial opening toward Cuba were announced in January, but so far there have been few takers.

Most businesses are still kicking the tires when it comes to Cuba and trekking to the island, often with lawyers in tow, to assess the opportunities and risks. A trade delegation led by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week, however, reported progress had been made on deals in the telecom and health care fields — two areas where U.S. businesses are allowed to engage with the Cuban government under the new U.S. Cuba policy.

But even when Cuba is removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that carries some financial sanctions, analysts say they don’t expect it will set off a business stampede, either.

“I think people are re-evaluating, but they are waiting until the 45-day waiting period is up before taking the next step,” said Fernando Capablanca, managing director of White Cap Consulting Group and president of the Cuban Banking Study Group. “I think everyone wants to play it very safe — what’s 45 days after 55 years?”

In December, President Barack Obama announced a new policy of engaging Cuba after more than half a century of trying to bring about change through isolating the island, and on April 14, he informed Congress that he intended to remove Cuba from the terrorism list, starting the clock ticking on the waiting period.

With the Cuban-American delegation saying last week that it wouldn’t be mounting a challenge to the de-listing, Cuba is set to come off the list in late May. The United States put Cuba on the list in 1982 at a time when Havana was promoting armed revolution in Latin America and Africa.

Stephen F. Propst, a Washington attorney, said the de-listing will be an important step in the U.S.-Cuba normalization process, but he expects it will have limited immediate impact on economic activity between the United States and the island.

However, he said, “It’s a very important step to move forward on diplomatic relations between the two countries.” Keeping Cuba on the list, Propst said, is a “label, largely a version of diplomatic name-calling.”

Andy Fernandez, leader of Holland & Knight’s Cuba Action Team, said removing Cuba from the terrorism list removes a “barricade, a roadblock” that has made U.S. companies hesitant to even engage in legal business dealings with Cuba.

Under Obama’s new Cuba policy, Americans can trade select goods with private Cuban entrepreneurs, supply private farmers in Cuba, sell building supplies to private individuals, and participate in Internet and telecom projects that will improve the connectivity of the Cuban people.

But the impact of the de-listing will be muted because there’s still a thicket of sanctions imposed under the embargo, the Helms-Burton Act and other U.S. laws that remain in effect, including provisions that require U.S. banks to block transactions with Cuba or Cuban nationals who aren’t in the permitted category.

New regulations allow a bank to reject such transactions. “That makes a lot of difference if you’re the person whose money is blocked and you can’t get it back,” said lawyer Patricia Hernandez during a Cuba seminar organized by the Florida International Bankers Association and the Cuban Banking Study Group last week.

“The overall risk with Cuba will remain as long as the embargo is in place,” Andy Fernandez said.

Lifting the embargo “will be the new elephant in the room in future talks,” said Peter Schechter, director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin American Center at the Atlantic Council.

The United States and Cuba are currently negotiating to renew diplomatic ties and open embassies. So far, there have been three rounds of talks.

“Cuomo’s trip illustrates not only the eagerness but also the frustration that U.S. governors feel — the 1996 Helms-Burton Act handicaps their states’ trade opportunities.” he said.

The embargo, which was phased in gradually starting in 1960, was codified through Helms-Burton and cannot be totally lifted without an act of Congress.

Companies such as Netflix, IDT, which has begun offering direct telephone service to Cuba rather than making the final connection through a third party, and lodging company Airbnb, which is working with private Cuban casas particulares or bed and breakfasts, have staked out territory in Cuba. MasterCard and American Express also say they want to allow U.S. customers to use their cards in Cuba.

But not one bank has announced its intention to support the cards — meaning authorized American travelers still can’t use plastic issued by a U.S. bank to pay for their hotel and other expenses in Cuba.

However, MasterCard Vice Chairman Walt Macnee, who took part in the Cuomo trip, told USA Today that he had two meetings with Cuba’s central bank to pave the way for use of U.S. cards in Cuba. “Now we’re going to work with each of the banks individually and make some progress there,” he said.

(c)2015 Miami Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

A protester holds up an American and a Cuban flag in Miami, Florida on December 20, 2014 (AFP Photo/Joe Raedle)

Cuba Removed From List Of State Sponsors Of Terror

By Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — After 33 years of designating Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, the United States is removing its Caribbean neighbor from a list of terrorist nations in another sign of warming relations between the two countries.

President Barack Obama said a message to Congress on Tuesday saying Cuba would be removed from the list because it had not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six months and that Cuba had provided assurances that it would not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

The State Department began a review of whether Cuba should still have a place on the list of state sponsors of terrorism on Dec. 17, the day Cuba and the United States announced they planned to put more than a half century of hostility behind them and work toward normalizing relations. It forwarded its recommendation to the president last week.

In accordance with U.S. law, Obama is required to inform Congress 45 days before the directive takes effect. Congress doesn’t have to validate his decision but it could decide to take action to override his recommendation.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., promptly condemned the action, calling it “a miscarriage of justice borne out of political motivations not rooted in reality.”

But Maryland Sen. Benjamin Cardin, who became the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez — an outspoken critic of White House Cuba policy — stepped aside, called the State Department’s recommendation “an important step forward in our efforts to forge a more fruitful relationship with Cuba.”

Pedro Freyre, a Miami lawyer, said removing Cuba from the list “means the removal of a whole range of legislative and legal restrictions.”

A 2006 state law, for example, doesn’t allow any money that goes to a Florida state university, including grants from private foundations, to be used to organize, direct, or coordinate travel to any country designated a state sponsor of terrorism. Scholars have complained that the restriction has complicated their research efforts.

Cuba’s presence on the list made banks reluctant to handle the accounts of its diplomatic missions in Washington D.C. and at the United Nations. The two missions have been working on a cash basis for more than year after their former banker, M&T Bank, told them it was getting out of the business of handling the accounts of foreign missions.

No other bank has come forward because of fears of regulatory retaliation and they have had good reason to be cautious. The French bank BNP Paribas, for example, was fined $8.9 billion for concealing U.S. dollar transactions with Sudan, Iran, and Cuba, and other banks have received heavy fines for transactions involving countries on the list.

Cuba’s removal from the terror list should make it easier for its missions to find a bank.

“Now that burden of regulatory risk will diminish — although it won’t disappear,” said Freyre, chairman of the Akerman law firm’s international practice.

Removal from the list is also a first step toward Cuba’s gaining “much-needed access” to financial markets and having representation in multilateral financial institutions, said Jason Marczak, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

“Eventual membership in the International Monetary Fund and access to development assistance through the World Bank will be instrumental in facilitating Cuba’s full integration into the international financial system and supporting a stronger economy in which Cubans can thrive and U.S. businesses can invest,” he said.

But there are a number of hurdles along that path, including U.S. sanctions that “prevent the U.S. from voting for Cuba’s ascension into international financial institutions,” Marczak said. Congress would have to vote to lift them.

Craig Alexander, senior vice president and chief economist of Canada’s TD Bank Group, said the new relationship with Cuba could also increase some Canadian companies’ interest in doing business with the United States.

Canadian businesses active in Cuba have limited their U.S. business activities, he said. “Now they can engage more with U.S. companies without running into regulatory problems. This actually makes doing business easier.”

Cuba was added to the list of state sponsors of terrorism on March 1, 1982, because of its training and arming of communist rebels in Africa and Latin America.

In its most recent report on worldwide terrorism in 2013, the State Department said: “There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”

Opponents of removing Cuba from the terrorism list, however, have made much of two clandestine weapons shipments.

In 2013, a North Korean freighter coming from Cuba and about to transit the Panama Canal was found to be transporting two MIG-21 jets and other undeclared war materiel under sacks of brown sugar. The North Korean shipping company that carried the cargo was sanctioned by the United Nations for violating restrictions on trafficking of weapons systems but Cuba was not.

Last month a Hong Kong-registered vessel headed to Cuba carrying an unregistered cargo of ammunition and gunpowder was impounded in the Colombian port of Cartagena and the captain ordered arrested. China has insisted it was part of normal trade.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser and one of the architects of the new Cuba policy, said removal from the list doesn’t mean the United States is in agreement with a country’s political system or foreign policy or what it does. “It’s a very practical review of whether or not a government is sponsoring terrorism,” he said.

The State Department’s 2013 terrorism report concentrated most of its attention on the activities of the al-Qaida and Hezbollah terror groups rather than Cuba.

In the very short section on Cuba, it said: “Cuba has long provided safe haven to members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

But the report also noted that Cuba had hosted and supported peace negotiations between the FARC and Colombia government, and said Cuba’s ties to ETA have become more distant.

The report also mentioned that the Cuban government continues to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States and provides support for them, but did not specify how many fugitives or name them.

Cuba acknowledges that it has granted political asylum to a small number of U.S. fugitives, including JoAnne Chesimard, a member of the Black Liberation Army who is known as Assata Shakur. On the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists, she was convicted in the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper and fled to Cuba after a jail break.

Also believed to be living in Cuba is William Morales, the Puerto Rican separatist and bomb maker, who was convicted and sentenced to 99 years in connection with a 1975 blast that killed four people. He escaped from a New York prison ward in 1979 and lived in Mexico before heading to Cuba.

During the second round of talks between the United States and Cuba in February, Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s chief negotiator, said Cuba didn’t want to discuss returning people that now have political asylum. Once they are granted asylum, she said, “It can’t be a part of this type of talks.”

Cuba has said that the United States also harbors fugitives from Cuban justice such as Luis Posada Carriles, who has been accused of plotting the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner in which 73 people lost their lives.

Ros-Lehtinen said taking Cuba off the list denies justice for victims such as Werner Foerster, the trooper killed by Shakur, and the South Florida pilots of the 1996 shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue planes as they approached Cuba.

“U.S. law is clear that a country cannot be removed from the SST list if it has not changed its policies and so long as the country is still supporting acts of international terrorism, but President Obama is yet again willing to circumvent the law by ignoring the Castro brothers continued policies in support of terrorism by providing safe haven to foreign terrorist organizations and repeated violations of international sanctions,” she said in a statement.

Among the countries no longer on the list is North Korea, which was designated after a 1987 bombing of a South Korean airliner that resulted in 100 deaths. It stayed on the list from 1988 until 2008 when President George W. Bush removed the designation after North Korea agreed to take steps to disable its nuclear program.

But there have been calls to once again put North Korea on the list for various actions, including last year’s cyberattack on Sony Pictures and threats against movie theaters and patrons. In January, the president imposed additional economic sanctions on North Korea.

A pending deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program could result in lifting of sanctions against Tehran if the framework holds up and Iran abides by its commitments.

(c)2015 Miami Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

A protester holds up an American and a Cuban flag in Miami, Florida on December 20, 2014 (AFP Photo/Joe Raedle)

Cuban Dissidents Testify On Capitol Hill Against Obama Policy

By Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald (TNS)

Cuban dissident Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, who spent 17 years in jail as a political prisoner, said Thursday during a House subcommittee hearing that U.S. efforts for a rapprochement with Cuba are a “betrayal.”

“These agreements are considered by an important part of the Cuban resistance as a betrayal,” said the dissident, who is known as Antunez. “They are unacceptable.”

He was one of three Cuban activists who testified before the House Subcommittee on Global Human Rights. Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White, and Sara Martha Fonseca Quevedo, active in the Ladies in White and now a political refugee in the United States, also disagree with U.S. efforts to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba.

New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican, said he called the hearing to ask whether in overturning 50 years of U.S. policy toward Cuba, the Obama administration “used the considerable leverage it wields to seek to better the condition of the Cuba people, or, as I fear, it’s an opportunity squandered in the haste to achieve a breakthrough and even create a legacy for the president.”

But Geoff Thale, Cuba program director at the Washington Office on Latin America, testified that far from a squandered opportunity, the new Cuba policy of engagement will lead to expanded family visits, assist a small but growing private sector, increase religious and cultural contacts and help Cubans connect to the outside world.

While subcommittee members agreed on their support for the Cuban people and the need to hold Cuba accountable for its human rights record, they disagreed on the best way to do it.

“The president’s policy of opening up relations with Cuba I actually think is a very good thing, especially for people who are concerned about human rights,” said California Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat.

“I think many times that is the way societies become more open and accountable and democratic, and trade and culture exchange becomes mutually beneficial,” she said. “You just can’t change people and governments who you refuse to engage with.”

Not only did the United States’ former Cuba policy hurt U.S. relations with other Latin American countries, she said, but “many Latin American nations view the embargo itself as a human rights violation against the Cuban people.”

Even though Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson testified repeatedly Wednesday at a hearing before the full House Foreign Affairs Committee that human rights is very much a priority in the United States’ evolving relationship with Cuba, South Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said President Barack Obama has chosen to ignore repression in Cuba.

“This is Cuba in front of us today,” he said, indicating the dissidents.

Antunez, who said he was first arrested for calling for reforms similar to those sweeping Eastern Europe in 1990 and then tortured and punished while in jail because he continued his activism, said he was testifying at the subcommittee hearing “in the name of my brothers and sisters in the resistance and most especially those in prison for their political ideas — of which there are dozens.”

They have remained in prison, he said, despite the “unconvincing process of release agreed upon by Barack Obama and dictator Raul Castro.”

As a separate gesture that was not part of the deal to begin the process of restoring diplomatic ties, Castro agreed to release 53 Cuban political prisoners on a list provided by U.S. negotiators over the summer.

Although Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat, said he still has “deep concerns” about the way Cuba treats its people, he said the previous policy didn’t work either.

“I hope the Cuban government will come to the negotiating table with the United States with a real desire to work with the United States for a more free, open and more tolerant society for the Cuban people,” he said.

But South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the new policy will only serve to “embolden the regime by implying that it can continue its repressive machinery with impunity.”

Indicating the democracy activists in attendance, Ros-Lehtinen said, “Rarely do they invite dissidents who disagree with this administration. These are the people who have to suffer the consequences of the administration’s decisions.”

Soler said that just before she left Cuba to come to the United States, dozens of activists were arrested in Havana and other provinces for attempting to place flowers at statues of Jose Marti on Jan. 28, the anniversary of the birth of Cuba’s national hero.

“Cuba continues to be a one-party government where fundamental freedoms that are an absolute right in American society constitute crimes against so-called state security,” said Soler, who heads a group of pro-democracy women.

She called for unconditional release of all Cuba political prisoners, recognition of civil society in Cuba, the elimination of laws that penalize freedom of expression and assembly and “the right of the Cuban people to choose their future through free, pluralistic elections.”

Fonseca, who was arrested repeatedly while living in Cuba and was one of four women who in 2011 unfurled a banner calling for release of political prisoners at the Capitolio building in Havana, said she, too, disagreed with Obama’s new Cuba policy.

“Why negotiate with a dictatorship without taking into account the people and their resistance?” she asked. “What has Raul Castro given in exchange?”

Photo: ehpien via Flickr

Cuba Hearings To Begin Tuesday On Capitol Hill

By Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — The first in a series of congressional hearings examining the potential impact of President Barack Obama’s new Cuba policy gets underway Tuesday in the Senate.

Later in the week, the action switches to the House with two hearings: the main show — “Assessing the Administration’s Sudden Shift” — before the Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday and a subcommittee hearing on human rights in Cuba on Thursday.

The common theme for this week’s hearings seems to be whether Obama gave away too much without getting enough from Cuba as the two countries work toward restoring diplomatic relations.

That’s the position of Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere subcommittee called the first Cuba hearing on Tuesday.

In an opinion piece he wrote Monday for CNN, Rubio recalled a line from The Godfather Part II in which mob character Michael Corleone responds to the demands of a U.S. senator by saying, “My offer is this: nothing.”

“In recent months, I’ve made clear that I believe the president and his allies in Congress are misguided for supporting a policy that gives away practically all the leverage the United States has to bring about democratic change in Cuba in exchange for virtually nothing,” wrote Rubio.

The senator said he wants answers on what the administration has done to secure the repatriation of an estimated 70 fugitives from U.S. justice who now live in Cuba as well as “what exactly the Castro regime has done in exchange for Obama’s softening of travel and banking regulations that will now allow more U.S. dollars to fill the Castro regime’s coffers.”

Rubio, who is testing the waters for a possible presidential run, called the hearing the same day he assumed the subcommittee chairmanship last week.

Among those scheduled to testify at the Senate hearing are Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, who recently headed the U.S. delegation during normalization talks in Havana, and Tomasz Malinowski, assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor.

Rosa Maria Paya, of the Cuban Christian Liberation Movement, also is scheduled to testify. She is the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, one of Cuba’s most respected dissidents when he died in a mysterious 2012 car crash.

She’ll be joined by activists Berta Soler, Miriam Leiva, and Manuel Cuesta Morua.

There’s expected to be an overflow crowd when the House Foreign Affairs Committee convenes Wednesday. The hearing will be webcast at www.foreignaffairs.house.gov/live-video-feed.

“The Obama administration’s sudden shift on Cuba policy raises many concerns, including how hard the United States pressed the Castro regime on its abysmal human-rights record during the secret White House negotiations that cut out the State Department,” said Republican Rep. Ed Royce, a Californian who chairs the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

“When it comes to the unilateral concessions provided to the Castro regime, the Obama administration has much to answer for. From the commercial goodie bag provided to the Castro regime to the pardons bestowed upon three convicted spies, one of whom was responsible for the murder of American citizens, the concessions provided to these Caribbean despots is pathetic,” said South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“I look forward to hearing from State, Treasury, and Commerce and questioning the basis for normalizing relations with an unworthy regime that continues to detain dissidents,” she said.

In addition to Jacobson, John E. Smith, deputy director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Matthew S. Borman are slated to testify.

During a Thursday morning hearing on human rights before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, an anti-Castro activist known as Antunez, will testify.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Despite Differences, U.S. And Cuba Make Positive Steps Toward Establishing Embassies

By Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — The United States and Cuba held historic normalization talks Thursday aimed at erasing more than five decades of corrosive relations, but there were no major breakthroughs and the two delegations remained apart on some key issues such as human rights.

Behind closed doors, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations’ top North American specialist, led their delegations in talks to re-establish diplomatic ties between the two nations.

The morning talks were more symbolic than eventful — they discussed measures such as staffing levels and other details of the operations of their prospective new embassies. Vidal said the two countries had developed a list of diplomatic formalities necessary before the embassies could open.

Still, a news conference after the morning session made it clear that there were quite a few differences that must be resolved before flags are flying over respective embassies.

Jacobson, for example, said she brought up human rights, which the United States has said will remain central to its discussions with Cuba. “I did discuss that issue today; it was part of my conversation,” she said.

Asked about human rights at the same news conference, Vidal said: “We still haven’t taken up that theme in our discussions.” During the morning session, she said, negotiations focused exclusively on the re-establishment of embassies.

It could be they were both correct if the conversation took place on the sidelines of the talks or that Jacobson brought the topic up and wasn’t engaged by her Cuban counterparts.

However, human rights did come up during the afternoon session of the talks — perhaps not in the way the United States wanted.

Given Cuban concerns about human rights in the United States, its delegation proposed establishing a “respectful, reciprocal” dialogue on human rights, said Gustavo Machin, deputy director of the foreign ministry’s U.S. division.

During the afternoon, the two sides also reviewed areas of cooperation such as fighting Ebola, human trafficking, law enforcement and environmental protection. They reviewed various bilateral agreements and discussed recent trade proposals by President Barack Obama, including allowing U.S. companies to upgrade Cuba’s telecommunications system.

Both sides said they will keep the process going but no date was set for the next round of normalization talks — although Vidal said she expected the delegations would come up with a date in the next few weeks.

Still, it was huge for the United States and Cuba to reach the point where they were talking normalization after a half-century of hostility, which included the Cuban Missile Crisis, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, attempts to assassinate retired leader Fidel Castro and, more recently, the shoot-down of four exile pilots by Cuban MiGs.

“Our presidents have taken steps to overcome more than 50 years of a relationship that was not based on confidence or trust,” Jacobson said.

In a surprise announcement Dec. 17 that included a prisoner release and U.S. offers to lift some restrictions on American travel and commerce with Cuba, Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro said that after 53 years the United States and Cuba once again planned diplomatic ties.

Although it wasn’t part of the deal, Castro also released 53 political prisoners on a list drawn up by the United States.

Getting the embassies open will be one of the simpler tasks the two sides face. Normalization of relations is a far more complicated and lengthy task.

“Our efforts to normalize relations will be a continuing process that goes beyond establishing diplomatic relations or opening an embassy,” said Jacobson. “Today, we have made further steps in this new direction.”

Normalization issues are “complex and reflect the profound differences between our countries,” Jacobson said.

Vidal said the re-establishment of relations will be difficult as long as Cuba remains “unjustly” on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

A review of Cuba’s continued presence on the list was one of the promises Obama made Dec. 17.

A senior State Department official said the review began that same day and is expected to be completed in less than six months.

Before embassies can be opened, Vidal also said the banking problem at the Cuban Interests Section, which takes the place of an embassy in the absence of diplomatic relations, needs to be resolved.

For almost a year, the diplomatic mission in Washington has been unable to find a U.S or foreign bank with U.S. offices or offices in a third country willing to handle its accounts.

Its former bank, M&T of Buffalo, N.Y., closed the accounts the Interests Section had for deposits of fees for visas, passport processing for Cubans and other consular services March 1, saying it was getting out of the business of handling the accounts of foreign missions.

The Interests Section temporarily suspended most consular services for a few months last year, restarted them and now says it plans to extend the services until March 31.

Since the two sides are using the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to guide the process of renewing ties, Vidal pointed out that it requires a host country to make sure a diplomatic mission has the facilities it needs to do its work.

But Jacobson said that the Vienna Convention might not cover all the questions that could arise because of the “particular and rather peculiar relationship we have had with Cuba in the past.”

The two delegations sat across from each other at long wooden tables separated by a row of red tropical flowers at Havana’s Convention Palace.

Machin emphasized the two sides discussed “practical steps” to get the two embassies operating during the morning session.

“This first round of talks has been a positive and productive dialogue,” Jacobson said. “We discussed in real and concrete terms the required steps for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between our countries.”

Vidal said “Cuba recognizes this will be a long process.”

Despite the decades of hostilities, this week the American and Cuban flags flew side-by-side at some hotels or were draped over the balconies at some homes.

In the past, the relationship was so acrimonious that during the era of President George W. Bush, the U.S. Interests Section, which will become the new U.S. Embassy, installed a ticker on its facade that flashed human rights and democracy messages.

Cuba erected scores of black flags to block the scrolling sign but it went dark after Obama took office. The Cuban government has frequently sent mass mobilizations with tens of thousands of demonstrators along the seaside highway that runs in front of the Interests Section.

Meanwhile, Vidal said there could only be true normalization when the U.S. embargo against the island is no longer in place.

The embargo can only be lifted by an act of Congress, but Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday that the former policy of isolating Cuba was “long past its expiration date.”

He said that “this year Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo.” But the Cuban-American delegation is vehement and vocal against any such move and it remains to be seen if there are sufficient votes from lawmakers from farm states and others who support lifting the embargo.

In Miami, Republican Cuban-American representatives in Congress — Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo — called for a late afternoon “Vigil for Liberty” in front of the Cuban Monument at Tamiami Park. About 300 people attended.

Ros-Lehtinen said the vigil was intended to “give a voice to those on the island whose voices are repressed by the regime. Human rights and the ability to express one’s self should be inviolate principles — not themes discarded at the negotiating table.”

After the talks, Jacobson visited the Cuban Jewish community and had a meet-and-greet with young ballerinas. On Friday, she planned to continue her outreach to Cuban civil society before leaving on Saturday.

AFP Photo/Joe Raedle

Study: No Trans-Pacific Partnership Would Be A Setback For U.S., Latin America

By Mimi Whitefield, The Miami Herald

A new Atlantic Council study says that failure to win approval for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership would be a “serious geopolitical and commercial setback” for the United States and Latin America.

The United States and 11 Pacific Rim countries, which represent 40 percent of the world’s economy, are currently negotiating the trade and investment liberalization pact. But its prospects are unclear.

Chief negotiators for the member nations — the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam — are currently trying to iron out market access and rules.

Trade negotiators from the United States and Japan also recently met to discuss their differences over autos and agricultural trade — an effort the study calls an “urgent priority for TPP.”
Japan’s agriculture team will be in Washington the first week of August for further talks.

“We’re down to a limited number of remaining issues. The most difficult issues are generally dealt with in the final stages,” acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler said Wednesday in Washington during an event to launch the study.

Even though there are only three Latin American members of TPP, the study said the region will play a “central role” in a Trans-Pacific agreement. It recommended that Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, and other interested Latin countries be welcomed to the talks.

In recent years, many Latin American countries have been at the forefront of trade liberalization and 11 have free-trade agreements with the United States and 10 with Europe.

But if TPP fails, the impact on Latin America would be “particularly acute,” because the region has “no Plan B of this magnitude,” according to the study “Bridging the Pacific: The Americas’ New Economic Frontier.”

Already, Asia is Latin America’s second largest trading partner after the United States, and Latin American countries’ exports to Asia grew by 590 percent between 2000 and 2011. During that same time, Latin America’s exports to the U.S. grew by 77 percent.

Most of the region’s exports to Asia are commodities. If the TPP were to include liberal investment and services provisions, “it could also help the region to diversify its exports to include more manufactured goods as well as finance and telecommunications,” the study said.

As Asian nations’ wages rise, becoming closer to Latin American levels, Latin American exports should become more competitive in world markets and the region could become a more profitable place for Asian companies to invest, the study said.

Beyond trade and investment, the study said, TPP has important security implications and serves to reassure the United States’ Asian-Pacific partners in the face of a rising China.

“The talks are as much about China as the countries that are taking part,” said Peter Rashish, author of the study and a senior trade adviser of Transnational Strategy Group.

The study said economic partnerships such as TPP “are one element of soft power and send a strong message of shared interests.”

Ultimately, Rashish said, China should be invited to join the TPP but with its recent actions in the East and South China Seas, now isn’t the time and could send the wrong message.

Before any new members or observers are added, Cutler said, the top priority is “concluding negotiations among existing members.”

The pact is being negotiated at a time when Americans are more skeptical of international engagement. The TPP and Trade Promotion Authority, which allows the president to negotiate a trade pact and submit it to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments, is expected to face a hard slog through Congress.

The secretive nature of TPP negotiations also have come under fire not only in the U.S. Congress but in parliaments of other member nations. Negotiators have been reluctant to disclose details of the draft document — although portions have been leaked.

TPP critics have complained about perceived lack of protection for U.S. textile firms and inadequate environmental safeguards. Some have contended that instead of creating jobs, TPP would cost jobs.

But Rashish said approval of TPP is essential: “With TPP’s failure, the U.S. and like-minded countries in Latin America would be ceding leadership on global economic governance to other economies which have a more state-based approach to domestic economies and a different approach to international economic competition.”

AFP Photo / Jewel Samad

Interested in world news? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!