Letter to Obama Sparks Controversy / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana | May 23, 2014

A letter published this week, signed by more than forty American personalities, asked Barack Obama to ease measures toward Cuba. In an unusual gesture of consensus, former senior U.S. politicians, military, analysts and businessmen advocate relaxing the embargo on the Island. Among the signatories are Republicans and Democrats who regard this as a good time to support Cuban civil society and entrepreneurs.

The missive includes a set of specific requests, such as expanding remittances, easing travel to the largest of the Antilles from the United States, and strengthening business relationships between the two countries. As explained in the text, it is a petition to Obama to carry our “specific actions.” Without falling into “ideological debate,” the signers clarify, with these measures they hope these measures will contribute to a “significant change” in Cuba.

During 2009 and 2010, the U.S. Administration pushed some relaxations such as increasing remittances, expanding family travel and academic exchange. However, this policy ceased when the Cuban government sentenced the American contractor Alan Gross to fifteen years in prison.

Ending the embargo requires congressional approval, so this letter asks the president to approve executive orders that circumvent congress.

Once the document was published the controversy erupted both inside and outside Cuba. Raul Castro’s government has barely mentioned it and the official media just outlined it with a brief note lacking details. However, this hasn’t stopped the issue from being debated in many social sectors.

Voices have been heard in two directions. There are those who believe these relaxations will reduce the Cuban government’s control over society, while others insist that their implementation would provide economic oxygen to maintain the regime in power longer.

Is a unilateral lifting of the sanctions, without asking for anything in return or demanding prior compliance with human rights and citizen liberties a good idea? That is the question 14ymedio asked several opponents on the Island.

Berta Soler (Ladies in White): Now is not the time to do business with the Cuban government because it’s not going to help the people at all. We aren’t thinking about profit, but rights.

Martha Beatriz Roque (opponent): At this point it doesn’t matter, relaxation or no relaxation. The news of what happens in Cuba is presented by the regime itself, the dictatorship, and there is a total destruction, there is no organization, there is a break in the chain of command. Sooner or later the problem will explode and there’s no want they can avoid it.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa (Progressive Arc): I agree with every easing from the United States toward Cuba, my position is against the U.S. Embargo. However, I notice that the letter barely mentions the issue of freedoms. It misses an opportunity to send a message in both directions: to to the American government and to the Cuba government. This could backfire because an opening without an interior strengthening could compromise any national project.

Dagoberto Valdés (director of the magazine Coexistence): This contributes to the exchange between peoples and what John Paul II said about “Cuba opening itself to the world and the world opening itself to Cuba.” There are human rights that are universal and that should be enjoyed by both Americans and Cubans. This exchange will strengthen Cuban civil society and will allow the world and American society to be more aware of the Cuban reality.

José Daniel Ferrer (Patriotic Union of Cuba): We support whatever brings improvement to the Cuban people, but we insist that the approach also improves the situation with human rights. Whatever is done should consider our nation’s need for human rights.

Felix Navarro (former political prisoner): There are many private interests in that letter and I doubt that it puts the critical situation of Cuban civil society at the forefront.  The government will use the economic oxygen it receives to grease the wheels of the machinery of repression.