miércoles, marzo 23, 2016

A note from Barack following his trip to #Cuba

It's been nearly 90 years since a U.S. President visited Cuba. And for the past half century, the sight of an American president in Havana would have been unimaginable.

But this week, because we're working to normalize our relations with Cuba, I was able to cross the Florida Straits and meet with and listen to the Cuban people. They told me about their hopes and their struggles, and we talked about what we can do together to help Cubans improve their lives.

What I saw and heard this week will stay with me forever.

I'll remember the beauty of Cuba and the pride Cubans take in their culture. On our first night, Michelle, Malia and Sasha and I walked around Old Havana, where every building, path, and plaza seems filled with the spirit and storied history of the Cuban people. We had a wonderful dinner at one of Havana's paladares, the often family-run restaurants where Americans and Cubans can meet and talk over some tostones.

I'll remember the innovative spirit of Cuba's entrepreneurs, especially the cuentapropistas who are running their own small businesses like bed and breakfasts, beauty parlors, barber shops and taxi services. These men and women, many of them young, are the face of Cuba's small but growing private sector, and I was proud to announce new partnerships to help them start and grow their businesses. That includes helping more Cubans connect to the Internet and the global economy.

I'll remember the courage of the Cuban human rights advocates I met, many of whom have been harassed, detained or imprisoned simply for standing up for the equal rights and dignity of every Cuban. They told me about their work to advance freedom of speech, assembly, the press and religion, and I promised them that the United States will continue to stand up for universal human rights in Cuba as we do around the world.

I'll remember the passion of the Cuban people, especially when it comes to our shared love of baseball—la pelota. At Havana's ballpark, President Castro and I watched as the Tampa Bay Rays took on the Cuban national team, the first professional baseball game between our countries in 17 years. Let me just say that tens of thousands of Cuban fans cheering for their team is...intense. But when we all stood for our national anthems, it was an unforgettable moment that reminded us of the friendship and mutual respect between the American people and the Cuban people.

Perhaps most of all, I'll remember the Cubans who lined the streets, mile after mile, to greet us. They were men, women and children, smiling, waving, snapping pictures. Some were even waving American flags—another sight that not long ago would have been unimaginable. In the faces of these Cubans I saw hope for a brighter future.

The Cuban people are ready for a new relationship between our two countries. The majority of Americans—including many Cuban Americans—support our new approach as well. It won't be easy. The long road ahead will see progress and setbacks. But the Cubans I met this week reaffirmed my hope that we can succeed, together.

I believe in the Cuban people - creo en el pueblo Cubano.

Barack (via Facebook)

martes, marzo 22, 2016

Obama's Home Run in Havana

Wifi hotspot, corner of 23 & L, Havana, Cuba - With a rousing, historic speech in Havana's Alicia Alonso Grand Theater to a packed, expectant, and very appreciative crowd President Barack Obama launched a new era in US-Cuban relations today.

Peppered with multiple words and phrases spoken in a fluent Cuban Spanish and filled with frequent allusions to the two countries' shared history of conflict and collaboration, Obama's speech was met with frequent, and sustained applause from the Cuban audience especially following his many references to and quotes of the Cuban "apostle," poet and independence leader José Martí.

Indeed, after noting his resolve to continue to fight international terrorism following the attacks in Brussels today, Obama began his speech with the Spanish words: "Cultivo una rosa blanca," a line from a favorite Martí poem about friendship. Obama noted that the fraternal spirit of Martí is a great model to employ in the ongoing reconciliation between Cuba and the US in that Martí offered his white rose of friendship and peace to his friends and enemies alike.

While the speech was a model of diplomatic courtesy and respect given that Obama began by directly thanking Raul Castro and the Cuban government for the gracious welcome they had extended to him and his family, the US president did not shy away from clearly expressing his belief in what he called universal human rights and democratic ideals. Quoting Martí's words: "Freedom is the right of every man to be honest and think and speak without hypocrisy," Obama laid out his vision of a future where every Cuban would be equal under the law, children could count on quality education and health care, and access to food and housing. But he also emphasized the need to respect the right to speak without fear, to recognize the legitimacy of dissent and the ability to openly criticize the government, an end to arbitrary detentions, and the value of free and democratic elections.

Obama openly recognized the many flaws in US society but argued that democracy was the civil and open debate that societies need to confront and find solutions to such problems. He referenced the popular mobilizations of the 1960s civil rights movement as an example for Cuba where people came together to organize, protest, and challenge the system non-violently creating a path forward for positive change.

In what was perhaps his best line, Obama referenced the current, chaotic US presidential election. But instead of using it to highlight the flaws of American-style democracy, he pointed out that only in America could two Cuban-American children of immigrants, run against a celebrity businessman, while a woman challenged a democratic socialist!

The speech was also notable in that it was addressed directly to and celebrated the ingenuity and sacrifice of the people of Cuba, both those on the island and those in the extensive Cuban diaspora abroad. Obama made clear that "el futuro de Cuba está en las manos del pueblo cubano," and highlighted the accomplishments of a new generation of Cuban entrepreneurs, celebrating some by name. He also inclusively honored the sometimes violent pain of the Cuban exile community in the US but noted with pride that if you want to know what Cubans are capable of you need to look no further than the booming city of Miami.

While Obama noted that some had encouraged him to make a "tear down this wall" declaration similar to what President Ronald Reagan had done in East Germany in the late 1080s, he instead declared that he would leave Cuba convinced and hopeful that the Cuban people had already begun building bridges to a shared and prosperous future.

He also celebrated the state-to-state collaboration between the two nations that had produced successful outcomes in combating Ebola in West Africa, peace in Colombia, and a shared honor of the life of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, repeating a rousing line from his December 17, 2014 speech: "Todos somos Americanos"

He stated that his administration had worked quickly to remove obstacles to such progress and collaboration, calling once again on the US congress to repeal the outdated embargo. However, he also noted that even absent the external embargo, not much would change on the island if the Cuban government did not also begin to remove the many internal restrictions and controls to greater freedom and prosperity for its citizens.

viernes, febrero 26, 2016

What Obama said when accepting the Nobel Prize...

Peter Hakim reminds us of this important section of Obama's Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

"… in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone… The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach — condemnation without discussion — can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door."

jueves, febrero 18, 2016

Obama is going to Cuba. Here's why:

Cuba is only 90 miles from Florida, but for a long time the distance between our two countries seemed a lot greater.

For more than fifty years, the United States pursued a policy of isolating and pressuring Cuba. While the policy was rooted in the context of the Cold War, our efforts continued long after the rest of the world had changed.

Put simply, U.S. Cuba policy wasn't working and was well beyond its expiration date.

Cuba's political system did not change.
The United States was isolated within our own hemisphere — and in the wider world — which disagreed with our approach.
Most importantly, our policy was not making life better for the Cuban people — and in many ways, it was making it worse.

So in 2014, President Obama changed course. And on March 21–22, President Obama and the First Lady will visit Havana, Cuba.

He will be the first American President since Calvin Coolidge in 1928 to visit Cuba; President Coolidge traveled to Cuba on a U.S. battleship, so this will be a very different kind of visit.

Here's how we got here:

Early in the Obama administration, we made it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel and send remittances to Cuba — because the President believed that Cuban-Americans are our best ambassadors to the Cuban people.

We later pursued many months of secret negotiations hosted by the Canadian government and supported by Pope Francis and the Vatican. And on December 17, 2014, President Obama announced — along with President Raul Castro of Cuba — that the United States and Cuba would begin a new chapter and take steps to normalize relations.

Since then, we have made progress in opening up relations between our two countries. Last summer, we restored diplomatic relations and Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Cuba to raise the American flag over our Embassy. This enhanced diplomatic presence makes it much easier for the United States to advance our interests and values in Cuba, as we do in countries around the world.

We've been able to engage Cubans from all walks of life. We've facilitated visits to Cuba by U.S. lawmakers, businesses, and academics. Changes in U.S. policies and regulations have allowed for greater travel and commerce between our countries. In fact, over this period, the number of authorized American visitors to Cuba has gone up by 54 percent, enabling increased people-to-people engagement. This will continue to increase, as earlier this week, the United States and Cuban governments reached an agreement that will restore direct flights between our countries for the first time in over 50 years — a change that will allow up to 110 direct flights to Cuba from the United States each day.

We've already seen indications of how increased engagement can improve the lives of the Cuban people. Cuba's nascent private sector — from restaurant owners to shopkeepers — has benefited from increased travel from the American people. Increased remittances to Cuba from the United States has helped Cuban families. Openings for American companies also hold the potential of improving the lives of ordinary Cubans — for instance, American companies will be enabling travelers to stay in Cuban homes and setting up a factory that will provide equipment for farmers.

The Cuban government has taken some steps to fulfill its commitment to expand access to the Internet, expanding wireless hotspots and announcing an initial broadband connection. These are steps that should be built upon to increase connectivity to the wider world and access to information for the Cuban people.

Still, this progress is insufficient. There is much more that can be done — by the United States, and by the Cuban government — to advance this opening in ways that will be good for Cubans, and good for the United States. That is why President Obama is traveling to Cuba. We want to open up more opportunities for U.S. businesses and travelers to engage with Cuba, and we want the Cuban government to open up more opportunities for its people to benefit from that engagement. Ultimately, we believe that Congress should lift an embargo that is not to advancing the Cuban people's individual well-being and human rights, and remove onerous restrictions that aim to dictate to Americans where they can and cannot travel.

Even as we pursue normalization, we've made clear that we will continue to have serious differences with the Cuban government — particularly on human rights. While Cuba released Alan Gross, a number of political prisoners and recently hosted the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, we continue to oppose and speak out against restrictions on rights like freedom of speech and assembly — and space for independent civil society — that the United States supports around the world.

While we do not seek to impose change on Cuba, we strongly believe that Cuba will benefit when the Cuban people can exercise their universal rights. President Obama has raised these issues in his discussions with President Castro, and will continue to do so.

As the President has said, Cuba will not change overnight, nor will all of the various differences between our countries go away. But the guiding principle of our Cuba policy — our North Star — remains taking steps that will improve the lives of the Cuban people.

That will be the President's message on his trip — where he'll have the opportunity to meet with President Castro, and with Cuban civil society and people from different walks of life. Yes, we have a complicated and difficult history. But we need not be defined by it. Indeed, the extraordinary success of the Cuban-American community demonstrates that when we engage Cuba, it is not simply foreign policy — for many Americans, it's family.

Our opening to Cuba has also created new possibilities for the United States in Latin America — a region that used to uniformly oppose our Cuba policy, and which now welcomes our new beginning.
We have worked with Cuba and other countries to support President Santos and the Colombian people as they are pursuing an end to a decades-long civil war. Following the President's trip to Cuba, he and the First Lady will travel to Argentina — a country with a new President who wants to begin a new chapter of improved relations with the United States.

This is yet another indication that the future is bright for the United States in our own hemisphere.

You can follow along as we prepare for the President's trip by visiting wh.gov/cuba-policy.

Ben Rhodes
White House Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications & Speechwriting.