America should strengthen, not abandon, relationship with Cuba

The drawdown in personnel from the American embassy in Havana and the Cuban embassy in Washington in the wake of mysterious attacks on U.S. officials is a setback to the efforts begun by President Obama to reverse a five-decade policy of isolation that failed to advance U.S. interests. But whether the perpetrators of the alleged attacks, be they rogue elements of Cuban security forces or perhaps a third country like Russia or North Korea, are successful in damaging ties between the United States and Cuba will depend on how the U.S. government and American businesses, travelers and civil society respond.

The Trump administration has said its withdrawal of personnel is not intended to impede engagement, but rather to safeguard the health and security of American diplomats. Although courageous State Department diplomats pleaded to maintain the U.S. mission at full strength, the drawdown is a step any administration would have taken in the face of a danger to American personnel that it could not identify or mitigate. The expulsion of Cuban diplomats, however, was a more contentious step, given that the United States does not necessarily believe the Cuban government authorized the alleged attacks.

How long it will be before the American and Cuban embassies are fully staffed again is impossible to predict. Both governments remain at a loss to explain the source and method of the alleged attacks, which have apparently caused hearing loss and brain injury. The FBI has not detected any devices inside or outside American diplomatic residences in Havana or been able to replicate in lab tests the effect of the suspected attacks.

Inevitably, diplomatic engagement will be hampered during this period. Cuban travel to the United States will also diminish as the understaffed U.S. embassy reduces consular services for Cubans seeking a U.S. visa. Still, other forms of engagement do not have to end. On the contrary, now is the time for advocates of greater ties to stop those in either country seeking to drag the relationship backward.

Most importantly, supporters of engagement should make sure the alleged attacks do not dampen U.S. travel to Cuba. Since the diplomatic opening nearly three years ago, travel to the island has soared. The low crime rate in Cuba makes it among the safest places in the world to visit, but the State Department is now discouraging all travel to the island. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged that no U.S. private citizens have been affected by the alleged attacks, but since some apparently occurred at hotels where American citizens would stay, the State Department was required to issue a travel warning.

The cultural and natural splendor of Cuba should continue to motivate Americans to travel to the island. Even those skeptical of governmental engagement should feel comfortable visiting the island for cultural exchanges, as the hospitality industry is the sector with the largest entrepreneurial engagement and private employment. Private sector establishments, which employ about one-third of Cuban workers, depend on spending by foreign visitors to thrive. As Cuba recovers from Hurricane Irma, continued engagement has a humanitarian imperative as well.

Americans also have an incentive to visit Cuba before the Treasury Department issues new regulations governing travel there, as mandated by President Trump in June. The regulations are a few weeks overdue, and it is unclear when they will be issued. Treasury officials who oversee sanctions prefer to prioritize countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, rather than proctor whether Americans step foot on a Caribbean beach.

Similarly, U.S. companies should not overreact and abandon the island. U.S. corporate leaders regularly complain about the challenges of navigating the bureaucratic and political thicket in Cuba. The travel warning and reduction in embassy commercial officers could cause some companies to delay or reconsider their Cuba plans. Savvy outfits, however, will look beyond the current diplomatic imbroglio and consider the first-mover advantage and long-term value of investing in Cuba. For its part, the Cuban government, which continues to signal its appetite for engagement with foreign companies, should expedite to the extent possible the approval of business petitions. The conclusion of a few high-profile deals could move other companies from the sidelines and beget more deals.

Finally, U.S. civil society, which has been instrumental to the process of normalization, should intensify engagement with their Cuban counterparts. Universities, sports leagues, cultural institutions, human rights groups, and research centers like the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, which is developing a lung cancer vaccine in collaboration with a Havana medical center, daily demonstrate how American engagement with Cuba enriches the lives of people in both countries.

The perpetrators of the alleged attacks on U.S. officials apparently wanted the U.S. and Cuban people to drift apart again. Whatever the origin of the illnesses afflicting U.S. diplomats, Cuban opponents of President Raul Castro’s opening to the United States will be pleased if Americans disengage from Cuba, and critics of normalization in the United States are cheering the renewed tensions. For the benefit of the Cuban people and Americans with a stake in the relationship with Cuba, it is important that the latest developments do not derail the historic reconciliation between the two countries.

  • Published in Cuba

Raúl Castro Presides Over Patriotic Ceremony in Santiago de Cuba

The continuity of the Cuban independence wars was highlighted today during a ceremony to mark the 149th anniversary of the start of the first Cuban independence struggle, on October 10, 1868.

The observance, presided by Cuban president Raul Castro, was held in Santiago de Cuba’s Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.

Tribute to Cuban Independence Heroes in Santiago

It began with a military tribute and the burial of the remains of the “Father of the Homeland”, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes (1819-1874) and the “Mother of the Homeland”, Mariana Grajales (1815-1893), mother of the Maceo brothers, next to the pantheons of José Marti and former President Fidel Castro.

Havana’s Historian, Eusebio Leal, delivered the keynote address in the ceremony. He noted that the relocation of Cespedes and Grajales’ tombs to the most prominent site of the cemetery will benefit the teaching of Cuban history and patriotic and national sentiments.

In his remarks, Leal summarized the lives and extraordinary contributions of both patriots to the struggle for the independence of the island nation.

The Historian of Havana recalled that next year will mark the 150th anniversary of October 10, and he urged Cubans to solemnly mark the event.

At the end of the ceremony, Cuban President Raul Castro and other high ranking officials in attendance paid tribute to Cespedes and Grajales, Jose Marti, Fidel Castro and other heroes fallen in the island’s struggles.

  • Published in Cuba

Mass rally in Cuba marks ‘Che’ Guevara’s 50th death anniversary

The Latin American revolutionary was shot dead by CIA-trained troops in a remote village in Bolivia on October 9, 1967.

More than 60,000 people took to the streets gathered to commemorate the 50th death anniversary of Latin American revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Cuban President Raul Castro was present at a mass rally on Sunday at the Che Guevara Mausoleum in the town of Santa Clara, 300 km east of Havana, reports Xinhua news agency.

The rally capped a week of tributes to the guerrilla fighter that helped overthrow Cuba’s dictatorship and bring Fidel Castro to power, before he was ambushed and killed in Bolivia on October 9, 1967.

On the ground floor of the memorial, a cavern-like enclosure holds the remains of Guevara and 30 of his comrades fallen in Bolivia. An eternal flame, lit by then President Fidel Castro, pays homage to the fighters.

On Sunday, Raul Castro and other Communist Party leaders paid tribute to Guevara and his guerrilla partners inside the memorial.

Cuban First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel said:” Che is not dead, as his enemies wanted. His figure grows larger as time passes and younger generations recognize his revolutionary paradigm.”

Guevara is now a “universal symbol” and inspiration in the struggle for the liberation of different nations “oppressed by imperialism”, said Diaz-Canel.

“He had a very original way of facing life, and his comrades knew how to appreciate his simplicity, sincerity, naturalness, companionship, stoicism, reckless disposition to always face the most difficult situation.”

His altruism and conscious revolutionary spirit have become an ideal to follow, said Diaz-Canel.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales, accompanied by his cabinet and other leading figures, completed a 2-km pilgrimage to La Higuera, where Guevara was killed by CIA-backed mercenaries.

Born in the Argentine city of Rosario in 1928 and trained as a doctor, Guevara joined Fidel Castro’s insurgency in 1956 to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, and played a leading role in the rebel victory.

With Cuba under new leadership, he left the country to continue his struggle against oppression, first to Congo and then to Bolivia, where he was ambushed and killed by mercenaries.

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Raúl receives ECLAC Executive Secretary

On the afternoon of October 4, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers of Cuba, received Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), making a visit to the country.

In a cordial atmosphere, the two officials discussed the regional situation, in particular the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as the earthquakes which affected Mexico.

Bárcena conveyed her gratitude to the President for Cuba’s support in hosting the 56th Meeting of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, currently taking place in Havana.

Participating on the Cuban side during the encounter were Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, a Council of Ministers vice president and minister of Economy and Planning, and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla.

  • Published in Cuba

Cuba's Raul Castro meets with Spanish FM in Havana

Spain's Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis met on Wednesday with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana during an official visit to the island.

Cuba's state daily Granma reported Castro and Dastis had discussed bilateral relations saying both sides were satisfied with developing relations which they both hoped would continue to strengthen.

Dastis is seeking to strengthen ties after the 2016 signing of the first Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement between Cuba and the European Union.

Spain is the country with the most joint ventures on the island and is Cuba's first trading partner in Europe. Globally it is third after China and Venezuela, respectively.

Also at the meeting were the Spanish ambassador to Cuba, Juan Jose Buitrago de Benito as well as Dastis' Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez.

Wednesday's meeting came has Hurricane Irma was thrashing its way through the northern Caribbean towards Cuba and Florida where it is expected to make landfall later this week.

  • Published in Cuba

Cuban President Raul Castro Sends Message of Condolences to the King of Spain and Relatives of Victims of the Terrorist Attacks in Barcelona

The Cuban Embassy in Spain reported that president Raul Castro sent a message of condolences to King Philippe VI as well as to the relatives of the victims of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona. Such attacks left a total of 13 deaths and dozens of wounded citizens, with five Cubans among them.

Cuban ambassador in Madrid, Eugenio Martinez, also expressed his condolences before the authorities of the country.

The Embassy and its Consulate in Barcelona have been in touch with the relatives of the four Cuban injured in the terrorist attacks. A fifth Cuban was partially wounded in the Cambrils event and was immediately discharged, according to the website Cubadebate.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Diaz // CubaSi Translation Staff

  • Published in Cuba

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visits Cuba

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Raul Castro denounces Donald Trump's Cuba policy

The president of Cuba has spoken publicly for the first time against US President Donald Trump's rollback of a thaw between the two countries a month ago.

President Raul Castro said "attempts to destroy the revolution" would fail.

Mr Trump has tightened restrictions on US travel to and business with the communist island.

But the US embassy in Havana, re-opened by former President Barack Obama, is still operating.

Mr Castro was speaking in front of Cuba's national assembly. It was his first public comment on the policy changes Mr Trump announced a month ago.

State-run Cuban media quoted Mr Castro as saying that Mr Trump was using "old and hostile rhetoric" and had returned to "confrontation that roundly failed over 55 years".

He said: "We reject the manipulation of the topic of human rights against Cuba, which can be proud of much in this area and does not need to receive lessons from the United States nor anyone."

Mr Trump anchored his policy rollback in human rights concerns raised by political opponents of Cuba's communist government, many of whom have fled to Miami where Mr Trump announced the changes on 16 June.

Mr Castro continued: "Cuba and the United States can cooperate and live side by side, respecting their differences. But no one should expect that for this, one should have to make concessions inherent to one's sovereignty and independence."

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