After the announcement of a framework to a “deal” with Iran concerning their nuclear program, President Obama turns his attention to the Summit of the Americas transpiring April 9-11 in Panama. The fortuitous timing of this announcement allows Obama to address the Summit without the distraction of ongoing negotiations. Coincidentally, poll results published the day before the Iran announcement should give Obama even more swagger because his decision to reestablish diplomatic ties and move towards normalization with Cuba is playing very well with Cuban Americans everywhere.
Indeed, the upcoming Summit had been threatened by boycott from a majority of the thirty-five Heads of State if the United States did not allow Cuba to participate. The position was clear: no Cuba, no Summit. Obama learned in the last Summit in 2012 that the rest of the hemisphere was not going to let this slide anymore and, to his credit, Obama has listened and moved on this.
The historic announcements on December 17th, 2014 that put in motion an opening between the two estranged nations have been well received throughout the international community and across a wide spectrum of American society including business leaders, NGOs, and curious Americans who have flocked to Cuba since the traveling licenses were streamlined.
According to a poll by Bendixen & Amandi International released Wednesday, April 1st during a summit of business leaders and Cuba experts in New York the idea of normalizing relations with Cuba is gaining steam with Cuban Americans both residing in Miami and throughout the U.S. A reported 51% supported Obama’s moves as opposed to 44% in December when he announced. As has been the trend with Cuban American polls the generation and geographical gaps are glaring and growing. 69% of people 18 to 29 years old are in favor of normalizing whereas 38% of people aged 65 and over support normalization. 41% of Cuban Americans living in Florida agree, 49% disagree, and 10% don’t know (Don’t know?!? ) while those living throughout the U.S. are 69% in favor of the measures. 66% of Cuban Americans born in the U.S. agree with Obama’s actions. Of those Cuban American citizens who were born in Cuba 45% agree, 46% don’t, and again 8% either don’t know or won’t answer. Those who arrived before 1980 are 32% in agreement and 60% disagree while, inversely, those who have arrived after 1980 have 56% in agreement and 35% who aren’t in favor of normalizing relations.
When asked about the embargo the evidence would demonstrate that even though some within the community are reluctant to come out against the archaic policy the overriding sentiment is that it is time to end it.
When posed with the question of whether the embargo should continue 47% say it should not, 36% say it should, and a whopping 17% did not answer. But, when pressed about specifics the results belie fundamental disagreement with the embargo. When asked if “companies owned by Cuban Americans in the United States should be able to sell their products in Cuba?” 58% say Yes. The same goes for services provided by Cuban Americans on the island. When asked if “Cubans living should be able to provide funding to help their friends and family members living in Cuba to open and operate their own business?” 66% say Yes. 55% say Yes, they do “think any individual or company in the United States should be able to provide funding to Cubans living in Cuba to open and operate their own business?” And, when confronted by this statement: “Currently, U.S. companies like Coca-Cola, Nike and Apple sell their products in communist countries like China and Vietnam. Do you think U.S. companies should be able to sell their products in Cuba?” 62% percent said yes. In other words, most Cuban Americans want an end to the embargo even if some of them can’t bring themselves to admitting that fact outright.
The official title of the poll is Cuban Americans’ Viewpoint on the Cuba Opportunity and Obama too should seize the “Cuba Opportunity” and take this moment to continue to make bold steps towards normalization.
Will the Real Terrorist Stand Up?
Both Iran and Cuba are on the U.S. State Department’s “list” of nations that are designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism. Cuba has been on the list since 1982 and Iran since 1984. Iran should be there. Cuba should not.
In a 2014 Miami Conference about changes in the Cuban American Community and the Obama Administration sponsored by Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE), an anti-embargo group of which I am a founding member, Antonio Zamora, a former attorney for the Cuban American National Foundation, explained that Cuba’s appearance on the list was a “bone” for the Cuban American political class who had helped the Reagan administration with dealing with Central America. Revolutionary support sent to Angola to fight apartheid and Nicaragua to help the Sandinistas by Cuba could never be defined as terrorism under international standards but the dubious designation has been held up through the years. The State Department’s own annual report gets skimpier and lamer every year. The State Sponsors of Terrorism Overview’s section on Cuba is by far the smallest of the four countries on the “list”; Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria.
The evidence stated is paltry and laughable in the latest iteration from 2013. The members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) have been held in cooperation with the Spanish governments. The members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been participating in talks hosted by the Cuban government to begin brokering a peace deal with the help of Colombia, Venezuela, Norway, and the Red Cross. Then comes one sentence that very clearly states: “There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”
How can Cuba be compared to Iran? Or Syria? Or Sudan? It can’t. Or at least it shouldn’t.
Iran was charged with continued supply and aid to Hizballah (sic) and Palestinian terrorist groups along with sending “sophisticated” weaponry to “oppositionists” in Yemen and Bahrain. All the while, having Syria, another country on the “list” serve as the main “causeway” for such “terrorist-related activity”.
Not to mention, “Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. Iran allowed AQ facilitators Muhsin al-Fadhli and Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and also to Syria. Al-Fadhli is a veteran AQ operative who has been active for years. Al-Fadhli began working with the Iran-based AQ facilitation network in 2009 and was later arrested by Iranian authorities. He was released in 2011 and assumed leadership of the Iran-based AQ facilitation network.”
There’s also a quip at the end about Iran being a “proliferation concern.” It is yet to be seen whether or not Obama’s outline to a deal is simply “kicking the can” of inevitable armament down the road.
Still yet, in the Western Hemisphere Overview the first nation mentioned as a “concern” is Iran. Not Cuba, the only nation on the “list” in said hemisphere and only 90 miles away from the United States. In fact, Cuba isn’t even mentioned in the entire chapter. Iran comes before other truly concerning regions throughout the Americas. Iran is supposedly more of a threat than Colombia, which witnessed the most amounts of terrorist attacks. It is mentioned as a threat to national security before neighboring Mexico, with its ruthless cartels dealing in narcotics, human trafficking, and paramilitary-like activities and a political class that enjoys impunity while thousands of its citizens are disappeared. Iran is more of a concern than Venezuela, with Nicolas Maduro and its oil reserves, connections to Iran and its unwillingness to go after drug kingpins. Cuba, despite being designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, is not perceived in any way as a threat within the Western Hemisphere. How can this inconsistency endure at the State Department? The truth is that John Kerry, and the Cuba desk know that the island hasn’t posed a threat via terrorism or any other form of hostility for a long time. They could take Cuba off the “list” tomorrow and they know it.
An emboldened Obama could seize this opportunity and instruct the State Department to take Cuba off the “list”. His legacy is being shaped by Cuba and Iran and he has proven that diplomacy can achieve favorable results. Announcing this before or during the Summit of the Americas in Panama would give him considerable diplomatic capital and would show that he is serious about actually moving forward from reestablishing ties towards full normalization with Cuba.
Benjamin Willis is a musician and political organizer living in Queens. He is a founding member of Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) and serves as Secretary and Event Coordinator for this community organization. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org