Baseball, SSOT, Prisoner Release, DeSantis and Guantanamo, FITCuba, new petition

Subject: Baseball, SSOT, Prisoner Release, DeSantis and Guantanamo, FITCuba, new petition


Cuba/US People to People Partnership
March 23, 2023

Friends and Colleagues,
As I began writing this newsletter the US and Cuba were playing in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic.
If you have not been following this, Cuba’s “Asere” team for the first time included players from the island and from abroad, a big step forward thanks to the positive attitude of both governments. The US won the the game but it was a victory for both countries. While there was a lot of media attention to protests, the LA Times reported, “the crowd was, on the whole, on the Cuban team’s side. Fans roared during pregame introductions and after the Cuban national anthem. They exploded with each hit off a Cuban’s bat. Flags waved throughout the crowd.” (Full story and Cuban perspectives are here.)
This is one more sign that below the surface events are aligning for improvement in US-Cuba relations. I have listed some of the reasons here. Following them are my St. Patrick’s Day messages to our proudly Irish President comparing Cuba – US conflicts with Ireland – England.
How far and how fast the Biden Administration will go is speculative and can be influenced by the level of impatience they hear privately and in the media.
A lot of grassroots attention has been given by US activists to the disgraceful inclusion of Cuba in the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism–SSOT (see below). Like it or not, removal from SSOT is probably linked to release of prisoners sentenced for participation in protests in July 2021.
If that happens, will President Biden act in a comparably significant way as our new petition urges?
Remittances were finally restored in practice when Western Union received permission to renew its services (story and links here). On a practical level for most Americans, the most glaring hypocrisy of an Administration that boasts of renewing travel is its prolongation of Trump’s blockages of hotel use, cruises and independent people to people licenses–not to mention the pettiness of forbidding rum and cigar souvenirs.
John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Cuban manager Armando Johnson at World Baseball Classic in Miami

State Sponsor of Terrorism (SSOT)
A deliberate and formidable obstacle to re-engagement between the US and Cuba was the last minute move by the Trump Administration to put Cuba back on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. In addition to being an unfounded calumny and a symbol of mutual mistrust, SSOT has serious consequences for Cuba’s ability to function in the international financial system. It also creates problems for business and holiday visits to the US by Europeans and others who are not eligible for visa waivers if they traveled to an SSOT country in the past decade.
The only new justification for listing Cuba by Secretary of State Pompeo was that Colombian guerrillas were still present in Havana after peace negotiations were ended by the then conservative President. The new progressive President of Colombia has restored negotiations and specifically asked Secretary Blinken to lift SSOT.
The primary public issue for pro SSOT Senators Menendez and Rubio is the asylum granted by Cuba in 1984 to Assata Shakur (Joanne Chesimard). Regardless of opinions of Shakur’s guilt or innocence and of her prominence as a symbol of racial conflict in the US (see long Wikipedia entry), it is a phony issue. Her long residence in Cuba did not prevent President Obama from removing the country from SSOT.
For whatever it is worth, the hard line Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart posted this, “The Biden Administration has spent the past two years finding ways to appease and give concessions to the Cuban regime. This report is a brazen precursor to the Biden Administration removing Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism– a measure they have been working on since taking office.”
You can join the national campaign by posting a message to the White House contact form advocating Cuba’s removal from the SSOT list. (Click here )
LATE BREAKING NEWS A bill has been submitted by Florida Representative Maria Salazar that takes away from the White House and State Department their power to remove Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, a serious infringement on Executive power, legislation here. It goes to full committee mark-up at 10 a.m. on Monday, March 28. Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee are here. If your Representative is on the list, please ask her or him to oppose this bill as soon as you can.

Prisoner Release
US officials repeatedly state that a principle obstacle to improvement of US – Cuba relations are prisoners who were harshly sentenced for their participation in the wide-scale protests of July 2021. However they never say how the US will respond if that happens. They also often misstate that all the protesters were non-violent. (The more complicated story is here and illustrated by the picture below.)
While correctly criticizing Cuba’s legal process and overreaction with 1,300 arrests, they never acknowledge the role of the US in creating the economic and social conditions that contributed to the protests. Neither American nor Cuban officials note the parallel to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations the year before that produced 10,000 arrests.
The solution may come from the Vatican’s call for an amnesty and the willingness by the US and Spain to enable immigration after release. The message was conveyed in Havana by Cardinal Stella as reported by Associated Press. It may be linked to creating conditions for a visit by Pope Francis that could involve the sanctification of Father Felix Varela. Varela, described by Jose Marti as “the man who taught us to think” was a leader in the independence struggle in Cuba in the early 1800s. Forced into exile, he became the beloved and protected advocate of Irish immigrants in New York, as described here(Photo of Varela statue at the Church of the Transfiguration in New York City, one of two he founded for the Irish.)
A real solution to the prisoner problem may only be possible if the US is privately assuring Cuba that its response will at least equal and could exceed the openings of the Obama era (as urged by our new petition). An important element was this statement in Miami by Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols, “the United States will not turn its back on political prisoners, and if they want to come to America, we will explore available avenues under U.S. law to welcome them”. (Annotated full text here.)

Our new petition
Mutual Responsibility and Opportunity
The policies and practices of both the US and Cuba
were responsible for the social unrest of July 2021.
Both governments must take bold steps to undo the
harsh consequences for those arrested and imprisoned.
We support the appeal of Pope Francis for prisoner amnesty
with the option for immigration offered by the US and Spain.
We call for comparable commitment by the US to reverse
 the destructive legacy of the Trump Administration,
including all restrictions on travel and hotel use and
Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.
The Biden-Harris Administration can foster economic reform and
development and reduce emigration by exempting Cuba’s private
sector from the embargo and enabling normal banking practices.
It can enhance mutual trust by negotiating the future of Guantanamo Bay.
Click here to sign the petition on mutual responsibility

July 11, 2021 protests in Cuba and 2020 Black Lives Matter marches
were not entirely peaceful and resulted in large numbers of arrests.

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check to Fund for Reconciliation and Development, 64 Jean Court, Riverhead, NY 11901

Vote with your feet!
Enjoy Cuba this spring or summer,
while helping old and new friends.
Send a message to the White House, Congress and your own community. Bring desperately needed over the counter medical supplies, household goods, shoes, clothing, baby food, etc. Inject hard currency into the stricken national economy. Make your own judgement about what has changed and what hasn’t as a result of protests and new government policies favoring private and cooperative micro, small and medium enterprise–MSME. (So far Party hard liners have excluded architectstour guides and travel agencies.)
How to do it
Flights: Check schedules and prices on American, Jet Blue, Southwest, United and in April on Delta. Look at alternatives via Canada, Mexico, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Panama. American Airlines began flights in November to Santiago, Holguin, Camaguey, Santa Clara and Matanzas/Varadero.
Licenses: FFRD can help you constitute a legal people to people group of up to six persons for non tourist purpose. We will introduce you to a knowledgeable Cuban guide for virtually any destination at any time. Make spring and summer plans now and think ahead for Carnival in Santiago (July 18-27) or the music festival at Josone Park in Varadero in August. Contact us to explore options at or via Whatsapp (1-917-859-9025),
Money: This is constantly changing. Most routine payments are in Cuban pesos (CUP). US dollars can now be exchanged legally at rates somewhat competitive with the street. MLC debit cards are required for purchases of rum and cigars and other goods in hard currency stores. (Warning: Trump reimposed bans on bringing cigars and rum to the US. and Biden has not undone them.)
Group trips: Specialized tour operators are organizing and travel advisors are booking Support for the Cuban People and People to People itineraries. We invite them to be listed here so you can find their services.
Hotels: Almost all of them are still forbidden by the Trump assault. However the Biden Administration has not added to the prohibited list new hotels like the Grand Aston and the Hotel Prado on the Malecon, even though they are part of Gaviota. Groups using the People to People General License can stay there, but travelers under Support for the Cuban People ought to be in casas particular.
Independent travel: With a guide book like Christopher Baker’s (now published by National Geographic), visitors can create their own Support for the Cuban People itinerary. Deepen and facilitate the experience with a professional local guide, some of whom are listed here. (Independent guides are also prepared to partner with travel advisors to organize everything for trips by their clients.)
By cruise? The Trump Administration devastated cruises, the most popular way to visit Cuba. It abruptly withdrew Commerce Department licensing for ship departures from the US and ended suspension of Title 3 of the Helms Burton law. That permitted Cuban-Americans whose family had owned docks that were nationalized to sue the cruise companies. So far they have won in a Florida court and could cost the cruise lines hundreds of millions of dollars.
However it is still legal for Americans to use a cruise as a means of transportation to Cuba, just like a plane. The essential aspect is what they do when they get off the ship. They can not use the provided tourist excursion but they can undertake a program of Support for the Cuban People, ideally with a local guide. Or a group with an organizational sponsor can qualify under Support for the Cuban people, a method we developed with Canada’s Cuba Cruise and Celestyal. The ship pictured in December of the British line Marella Cruises made weekly Caribbean voyages that included Havana and will resume them in November, information here.

Cuba’s annual International Tourism Fair will be held in Havana May 1-5, 2023, organized by the Ministry of Tourism. It offers informational programs and personal meetings with representative of all government authorized providers, private companies and many hotels and resorts. Several thousand European, Canadian and Latin American tour operators and travel advisers attend to discuss contracts for the coming year.
Updated information will be posted here. US travel professionals that have questions about participation or exhibiting and are interested in special programs for Americans should contact

Opera de la Calle Is Back
Their original high energy mix of Cuban popular and classical culture can be seen by clicking here
The Havana premier in 2017 of the opera Hatuey based on a Yiddish epic poem is now on youtube.
Interviews with Ulises Aquino and friends of the company celebrating its 15th anniversary are here
Opera de la Calle is resuming rehearsals and public performances.
To arrange a program for groups of at least 20, write

Political Notes
The Havana Syndrome had been discredited by US intelligence as reported here.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis freaked out when the Cuban ambassador visited Tampa and has been revealed as the author of the illegal forced feeding of Guantanamo prisoners, compiled here.
State of Delaware seeks to strengthen its relations with Cuba, official delegation report here
A bill to end the trade embargo introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Roger Marshall (R-KS)
letter from Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) urging the President to do more to support Cuba’s private sector and liberalize the embargo including a general license for individual people to people travel


“Cuban Privilege: The Making of Immigrant Inequality in America” by Susan Eckstein, Boston University, Cambridge University Press see resources list for “Cuba Exodus” webinar video link

“The Remarkable Reefs of Cuba: Hopeful Stories from the Ocean Doctor” by David Guggenheim. Prometheus Books; webinar for Cuba Program, Institute of Latin American Studies, Columbia University   Video here

For posts about July 11, November 15, Administration policy changes and a variety of Cuban opinions and other useful background, scan our blog here; our most recent previous newsletters are January here, February here and June here.
“Creating Communities of Welcome: Sponsoring Newcomers through P4CHNV”
 (Process for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans) webinar sponsored by Center for Democracy in the Americas, Women’s Refugee Commission, and Welcome US Thursday Mar 23, 2023 06:00 PM ET register here
“Cuba Exodus: Causes and Consequences” webinar sponsored by Cuba Program, Institute of Latin America Studies at Columbia University with Guillermo J. Grenier, Florida International University, and Susan Eckstein, Boston University video not yet posted, check ILAS video channel here
“To Peel an Onion”, revealing the layers of US-Cuba relations by Rafael Hernandez from OnCuba
“In search of lost time: Carter and Cuba” by Rafael Hernandez, editor of Temas, from OnCuba
“Legal Trade and Investment in Cuba” webinar sponsored by Cuba Program, Institute of Latin America Studies at Columbia University with Robert Muse, attorney, and Gustavo Arnavat, Cuba Foundation. video here
“U.S. Justice Department Recommends Preventing Submarine Cable from Connecting U.S. with Cuba” in contradiction with touted goals, reported by EFE/On Cuba
“Cuba’s Energy Challenge” webinar sponsored by Cuba Program, Institute of Latin America Studies at Columbia University with Jorge Piñon, University of Texas at Austin, and Ricardo Torres, American University, video here
“Cuba: The U.S. Embargo After Sixty Years” webinar organized by the Washington Office on Latin America and the National Security Archive, speakers’ bios and link to watch it here
“Cuba Embargoed: U.S. Trade Sanctions Turn Sixty” Compilation of documents by National Security Archive

Cuba/US People to People Partnership

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