On Friday, a delegation of U.S. officials was in Havana for talks on migration issues with the Cuban government. These talks are the latest of a series which began under President Clinton in 1994. They had been quietly resumed earlier this year, after having been suspended for six years by President Bush.
Both sides initially said that the talks went well, but unfortunately the mood was then soured by the decision of the U.S. officials to meet with a group of "dissidents" in Havana, against the will of the Cuban government. Nevertheless, the Cuban government still wants to keep up the discussions.
Friday's talks had a limited agenda of dealing with questions of visas given by the U.S. to Cuban citizens. The U.S. had agreed to give 20,000 legal resident visas to Cubans every year. In the past, there have been disputes when the U.S. has not granted the full number of visas agreed on, and because there has been a tendency to deny visas to people with less education and try to get doctors and other well educated Cubans to emigrate.
The U.S. government must go much further than routine talks on visas. Although the Obama administration made some adjustments to its Cuba policy earlier last year, these do not go to the core issues about which the Cubans are concerned and which would benefit the American people. The U.S. economic blockade of Cuba, the ban on travel by U.S. persons to the island, the case of the five Cuban activists serving long sentences in U.S. prisons for having monitored activities of right-wing terrorists in South Florida, the wet foot-dry foot policy which encourages some Cubans to try to come to the United States in rickety boats, the continued listing without any justification of Cuba as a "state sponsor of terrorism," and the failure to either prosecute or extradite people who have committed terrorist acts against Cuba are critical issues for both U.S. and Cuban security and economic well-being.
Candidate Obama was attacked by his opponents for saying he would meet with our "adversaries" without preconditions. Cuban President Raul Castro has been eager to take him up on this offer, but there has been no response from the U.S. side. This has to change.
Obviously, given the extreme right's focus on Cuba, there has to be lots more solidarity actions from the grassroots, where change usually starts, to pressure our government to end these longstanding Cold War policies.
One way is to organize delegations to visit your congress person and urge him or her to co-sponsor a bipartisan bill, HR 4645, introduced by Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas. The bill would restore U.S. citizens' right to travel to Cuba and help boost agricultural sales (and therefore the U.S. economy and jobs) to the island as well.
Or call your House representative today and ask her/him to co-sponsor HR 4645, Capitol switchboard (202) 224-3121.
Photo: A farmers market in Cuba where all farming is organic. Roberta Wood/PW