Old Policy Disputes Disguised as Compassion

If our Cuban-American community is to show maturity on the issue of how to respond to the train-wreck of a government and coming changes in Cuba, I would think less, not more, emotion would be a goal. Yet, in response to the damage inflicted by Hurricane Ike, the pages of the Miami Herald — local columnist Myriam Marquez and local business leader, Carlos Saldriagas, have made what I consider to be emotional appeals regarding their support of temporarily [90 days] lifting the direct remittance bans, proposed by the Democrat challenger to the US House of Representatives, Raul Martinez.

Their appeals are aimed not at the logic and expected implications of abandoning the current policy, but straight at the heartstrings – evoking the imagery of hurricane damage and the need for doing the ‘right thing’ [the ‘wrong thing’ coalition apparently having failed to get their letter published]. Who believes that at the end of the 90 days, the same people requesting the change now would be satisfied and support the policy reverting to it’s current position. I can give you their speeches now; ‘we had hoped that the 3 month period would have been enough, but the enormity of the task is only now becoming evident to us. Think of ourselves in Miami and how long it took us to recover from Andrew. So let us now pledge, during this Christmas season….’

Now if the people requesting the policy change would state that they would unequivocally support the policy reverting to its current status, that would be different and something to consider. But not just an election season promise, which we know can change with ease. But rather a believable case on why 90 days would be enough, when we know going into this that 90 days will not even come close to addressing years of mismanagement and corruption, let alone hurricane damage.

But that’s the point. Just as those of us who support trade and remittance restrictions are routinely accused of supporting failed policies, those advocating this change need to address in unemotional terms; why the bread and circus of a 90 day window, for people trapped by a hospice-like government which is immune to suffering? Differentiate why monies sent directly to Cuba differ from those which were well intentioned aid yesterday, but today line the pockets and extend the regime-life of a Mugabe in Zimbabwe. If it’s because of our heritage as opposed to our faith, then say so clearly. Because as a Christian, when I look at Caribbean countries who have suffered greatly recently, who truly have no other options and for whom I sincerely believe a concentrated period of assistance from compassionate Miamians would do real good, that country is Haiti.

Given all that, my prayers, energies and dollars will go to Catholic Relief Charities for both Haiti and Cuba, not old policy disputes, disguised as compassion.

[Post-post Sept 16]: From a Miami Herald article which explores why Cuba rejected a $5 million offer of US aid:

”The Cuban Interests Section in Washington wishes to communicate to the government of the United States that our country cannot accept a donation from the country that blockades us, although it is willing to purchase the indispensable materials that the North American companies export to the markets, and requests authorization for the provision of same, as well as the credits that are normal in all commercial operations,” the statement said.

“If the government of the United States does not wish to do so permanently, the government of Cuba requests that at least it do so during the next six months.”

Last week, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez said the Cuban government is behind on payments to most of its creditors, and suggested that the request was a pretext.

”Do they really want us to extend their credits?” he said.

Pro-embargo lobbyist Mauricio Claver-Carone said the Cuban government historically uses natural disasters to poke holes in the trade embargo. Hurricane Michelle in 2001 legalized cash agricultural sales, and now American farmers are among the top providers of food to Cuba.

”This isn’t the first time they do this,” Claver-Carone said. “In 2001, it opened a Pandora’s box.”

Note: Since Herald web links expire – their complete column & letter are provided at end of this post.

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Posted on Wed, Sep. 10, 2008
Ike a chance to show our compassion
BY MYRIAM MARQUEZ
The heavenly signs pierce the soul, harsh and devastating.

You can see them in the eyes of a wounded Haitian child caked in mud, gasping for life after Ike, the Category 3 hurricane that killed more than 300 and left a million homeless. Feel them in the tremble of a sobbing father holding his dead little girl. Hear them in prayers of Miami’s Little Haiti community to Notre Dame du Perpétuel Secours, our Lady of Perpetual Help.

You can track the signs, too, in Hurricane Ike’s path through Cuba. It roared through Nipe Bay near Santiago, where almost 400 years ago on that very day two young Indian brothers and a slave boy survived a storm and found a floating wood statue, bone dry, proclaiming “I am the Virgin of Charity.”

LOST OPPORTUNITIES

As a multitude of Cuban exiles solemnly prayed the rosary Monday on the anniversary of the virgin’s apparition, Ike’s trajectory became a replay of historical misses and lost opportunities.

Ike kept pushing, challenging, reminding us of old battles as it ripped through central Cuba and swirled just a few miles from Playa Girón where young exiles fought in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

By Tuesday, Havana’s old buildings were crumbling from Ike. The storm was blamed for the death of at least four Cubans in other towns and was expected to do more damage to an already devastated Pinar del Río province, where Gustav 10 days earlier destroyed crops and 100,000 homes.

How many more signs before we walk the compassionate conservative talk?

Haitians without U.S. immigration papers deserve temporary protected status. If not now, when? That immigration category is used during times of natural disasters and wars, giving undocumented immigrants the opportunity to remain in the United States and work, just as Salvadorans and Nicaraguans have been allowed to do.

You can’t send help to your loved ones if you’re in an immigration cell, unable to work for no other crime than your status as persona non grata.

South Florida’s congressional delegation has consistently called for TPS for Haitians. Republicans and Democrats, alike, see the moral imperative. Republican U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz Balart, Mario Diaz Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen quickly called on President Bush to do right by Haiti on TPS, as have Rep. Kendrick Meek and other Democrats.

A KEY MOMENT

Students of history know there are pivotal moments that offer remarkable transformations. The collapse of the Berlin Wall that led to the end of the Soviet empire caught the West by surprise. Ike may be our test.

For Bush has the opportunity to rise above the expected political drill of nothing for Cuba until the Castro brothers leave. It’s good to see the Treasury Department is poised to approve new licenses for nongovernmental groups to offer hurricane relief to the Cuban people, but we can do more.

No one with any sense is saying dump the Cuba embargo and kiss up to the Castros. But what’s so wrong with a 90-day window for Cuban exiles to rush to their families left behind and offer help, as Democratic congressional candidate Raúl Martinez has suggested?

I suspect Fidel and Raúl won’t allow it. They only care about free credit so their already debt-driven government can get U.S. goods for nothing. Let them play politics with Cubans’ suffering.

We are better than that.

Even for 90 days, only for 90 days, let’s get rid of the political babble, the white noise and seize the challenge of our better angels.
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Miami Herald – Posted on Wed, Sep. 10, 2008
We are hurting Cubans, not the regime
Given the current debate over how the United States should react to the devastation left by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in Cuba, it is important to put things in perspective. Hundreds of thousands of people have been seriously affected by the storms, and there will be a profound impact on a nation already on the verge of a food and housing crisis.

Ramon Saul Sanchez’s Democracy Movement has asked the federal government to temporarily lift restrictions on remittances to allow Cuban Americans to send monetary and physical assistance to family on the island. Several exile organizations, including those that form part of Consenso Cubano, expressed their support for such a move. Almost all the leading Cuban dissidents have, also. To most observers, this is a perfectly logical, ethical, humanitarian and effective thing to do — but not in the irrational and absurd context of U.S.-Cuba policy.

Disappointingly, but swiftly, the administration, in collaboration with Cuban-American legislators from both parties, chose to play politics, issuing a statement challenging the Cuban regime to, among other things, allow the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to directly distribute aid, offering a paltry and offensive $100,000. In a continuing political chess game where the suffering Cuban people are pawns, the United States challenges the regime in ways reminiscent of Fidel Castro’s offer to send doctors to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

I wish that our presidential candidates had refrained from intervening on this issue. When candidates take positions, issues become politicized. However, Barack Obama’s comments were positive and constructive. While I have not heard John McCain’s position on this issue, I cannot believe that he would agree with the administration’s position, given his wife’s recent trip to Vietnam and her laudable work there helping children with cleft palates. Vietnam holds more political prisoners and has more human-rights violations than Cuba. But the McCains have demonstrated that humanitarian efforts should transcend politics.

To propose, as the only option, something that the administration knows the Cuban regime is going to reject is playing politics with Cubans’ suffering. If U.S. officials are sincere about helping them, they should act to unilaterally lift, temporarily, all restrictions on remittances and allow U.S. NGOs to send aid to Cuba. Our government cannot control how the Cuban government will react. But its leaders will be held accountable by Cubans and history’s harsh judgment. What the Cuban government does, or fails to do, should not dictate our actions.

Instead of rushing to help our brethren, some in the Cuban-American community have engaged in the old, tired and increasingly sterile political debate.

Can we for once put the Cuban people first? This is the perfect opportunity to inject ethical considerations into a debate from which they have been absent for a long time. Can we continue to allow the end to justify cruel means? Can we expect to justify one wrong because the Cuban government commits another? Where are the voices of religious leaders? It is precisely on issues like these that they need to be heard, clearly and unequivocally.

The majority of the Cuban-American community is increasingly fed up with the continuing ineffective and worn out diatribe.

We ought to be freed to help our brethren in any way we can, directly and indirectly. In the end, it will be more politically effective to prioritize helping the Cuban people over hurting the regime. It is the only right thing to do.

CARLOS SALADRIGAS, Miami
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Miami Herald
Posted on Tue, Sep. 16, 2008
Cuba rejects U.S. supplies, asks for suspension of trade embargo
BY FRANCES ROBLES

A civilian aircraft was ready to be loaded with supplies to help residents of this hard-hit province and fly out of Miami Tuesday, but Havana rejected the U.S. humanitarian assistance offer — repeating that what it really needs is a temporary suspension of the trade embargo.

Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon called the offer made to Cuban diplomats ”unique and unprecedented,” because in the interest of speeding up delivery, the U.S. government was prepared to turn over up to $2 million in plastic sheeting, hygiene kits, blankets and other items directly to the Castro government — an exception Washington was willing to make because of the extreme humanitarian need.

The initial flight loaded with $348,000 in goods was part of a $5 million aid package the Cuban government shunned, saying in a statement Monday that it cannot accept help from “government that blockades them.”

Henrietta Fore, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told reporters that about $3 million in cash will make its way to the storm-wracked island anyway through various nongovernmental organizations, earmarked for some 35,000 hurricane victims.

”This was a genuine offer,” Fore said in a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon. “We knew of the dire need. This was an important, serious offer of humanitarian assistance. We are hoping the Cuban government will reconsider.”

Washington came under fire last week because its first two offers to help Cuba in the wake of devastating back-to-back hurricanes were for just $100,000 — if the Cubans allowed a disaster assessment team to survey storm damage. Critics argued that Washington was playing politics during a disaster and failed to step up at a critical time for the Cuban people.

Cuba rejected the two proposals, saying no assesment team was necessary. Fore stressed that its latest, more generous offer, made verbally to Cuban diplomats in Washington, had no conditions attached.

”People in need in time of a natural disaster like this are simply people in need,” Fore said.

In its statement made public Monday, the Cuban government asked Washington for a six-month reprieve on embargo rules that prohibit the communist country from making purchases from American companies.

U.S. law allows Cuba to make cash agricultural purchases but prohibits it from buying on credit. Cuba’s request for a six-month embargo suspension would require an act of Congress, experts said.

After two sharply worded statements — including one that called Washington officials cynical liars — Monday’s note from the Cuban foreign ministry took a softer tone.

”The Cuban Interests Section in Washington wishes to communicate to the government of the United States that our country cannot accept a donation from the country that blockades us, although it is willing to purchase the indispensable materials that the North American companies export to the markets, and requests authorization for the provision of same, as well as the credits that are normal in all commercial operations,” the statement said.

“If the government of the United States does not wish to do so permanently, the government of Cuba requests that at least it do so during the next six months.”

Last week, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez said the Cuban government is behind on payments to most of its creditors, and suggested that the request was a pretext.

”Do they really want us to extend their credits?” he said.

Pro-embargo lobbyist Mauricio Claver-Carone said the Cuban government historically uses natural disasters to poke holes in the trade embargo. Hurricane Michelle in 2001 legalized cash agricultural sales, and now American farmers are among the top providers of food to Cuba.

”This isn’t the first time they do this,” Claver-Carone said. “In 2001, it opened a Pandora’s box.”

In Cuba, storm victims aren’t waiting around for help from Washington — or Havana.

From coast to coast, Cubans are picking up debris, hacking away at felled trees and hammering nails. Convoys of trucks barrel down the highways with the first of much-needed supplies. Eighteen-wheelers are loaded with debris, wood, concrete shingles — and people.

People are working alone or together doing everything from fixing their homes to fixing roads and utility poles.

Yosmany González, who lives in Holguín province in eastern Cuba, said most Cubans were gathering up materials themselves. Off the floor.

He spent the weekend gathering wooden sticks that were left of his home to begin laying the foundation for the rebuilding of his house.

”The people from the Committee in Defense of the Revolution said the materials would be coming from Venezuela in a few months,” his wife Yanexy said.

On the outskirts of Sancti Spíritus, Miguel Portal and his buddy Leonardo fixed Portal’s ceramic roof, piecing together remaining chunks like a jigsaw puzzle. Leonardo — known as ”Chi Chi” — painstakingly examined each piece to see which were good enough to use and where to place them.

”I don’t have much hope that the government will help me out,” Portal said. “I have been waiting four years for the materials to make my house sturdier. They said they would provide the materials to make it look better, because it was close to the main road and they want it to look better when tourists drive by.”

The dairy farmer said materials are generally provided by community leaders.

”Lots of times they send you on a wild goose chase,” he said. “They say, `Well, we don’t have anything here, so go to this city or this place and talk to this person, and when you get there, you have to go on another wild goose chase.’

”I’m done chasing geese,” he said. “I have to figure things out for myself.”

And in Pinar del Río in western Cuba, a message for President Bush hung from a window shop: “Mr. Bush, this town can’t be fooled, and we can’t be bought.”

Miami Herald correspondents spread across Cuba contributed to this report. Their names are not being published because they lack the visas required by the Cuban government to report from the island. Robles reported from Miami.
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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