Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Cuban Friends In High Places

Including The White House
         The pro-USA Voice of America Website used this Reuters photo to illustrate a pro-Cuban article this week entitled "U. S. Might Further Ease Embargo." The image, as well as Voice of America itself, reflects the very significant presence of both the U. S. government and U. S. businesses at Cuba's International Trade Fair this week.
     Using an extraordinary amount of courage and skill, America's two-term President, Barack Obama, has done far more than the previous ten U. S. presidents to normalize relations with Cuba. He has bravely and astutely defied a right-wing Republican Congress to chisel away at a nefarious embargo, in effect since 1962, that only Congress can totally remove. Congress won't do that because it has no shame, not even when -- each October -- the nations of the world at the United Nations scream loudly for the end of an embargo that even America's best friends consider to be cruel and in multiple violations of international laws. On behalf of the majority of Cubans and Americans, and in defense of democracy, Obama has brought about the opening of embassies in Havana and Washington for the first time since 1961. He has also eased anti-democratic travel restrictions, authorized telecommunications companies to operate in Cuba, and promoted trade and amity with Cuba's growing private sector, among many other friendly measures. 
           David Thorne is the top senior adviser to U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Both men strongly believe that an economically viable Cuba will have "beneficial pluses for the United States." In an interview with Reuters, as referenced by Voice of America, Thorne said that President Obama "could further relax the U. S. trade embargo against Cuba. We are making progress. We are making regulatory changes. We'll make more. But the pace is really going to be set by the Cubans and we are satisfied with how they want to do this."
         David Thorne, representing the U. S. State Department, has spent three very productive days and nights in Cuba this week. He is advising Cuban officials and Cuba's fledgling entrepreneurial community on how to deal with foreign investors, including many important U. S. business leaders attending the Cuban International Trade Fair on the outskirts of Havana. Mr. Thorne's trip to Cuba is a key element in the State Department's "Shared Prosperity Agenda," quite a contrast to the still-viable myriad regime change schemes lavishly funded by the U. S. Congress. David Thorne's father, Landon Thorne, was appointed by President Eisenhower in 1953 to administer the Marshall Plan in Italy that restored democracy to an important nation that had been a major ally of Hitler's in World War II. David Thorne grew up in Rome, speaks fluent Italian, and is a former U. S. Ambassador to Italy. He got his BA from Yale and his Masters from Columbia. He would like to replicate in Cuba something akin to what his father achieved in Italy.
            Marcelo Claure is a 44-year-old Bolivian-American and he would like to see Cuba prosper. He is the CEO of Sprint, the telecommunication giant headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas. This week Mr. Claure engineered a major deal with the Cuban government. Sprint became the first U. S. carrier to partner with ETECSA, Cuba's telecommunications company. Americans visiting Cuba will now be able to use their cellphones and Smart Phones like they do in other "modern places." Mr. Claure told U. S. Today, "At the beginning, we thought, 'Oh, my God, it's the Cuban government, negotiations are going to be slow.' But I was blown away...and we signed an agreement in record time." He said Sprint customers who had traveled to Cuba informed the company that they had no service on the island. Now they do, thanks to Mr. Claure.
         This photo, courtesy of Alan Gomez/USA Today, shows Sprint CEO Marcelo Clasure signing that major telecommunications deal with the Cuban government in Havana. One thing American CEOs doing business with Cuba will discover is this: Many of the top officials in the Cuban government are women, and that's a revolutionary tradition. Sitting just to the right of Mr. Clasure, and signing for Cuba, is Vivian Iglesias. She is the Director of International Services for ETECSA, Cuba's telecommunication company. She told USA Today that payment for the Sprint charges will have to go through third parties because of the United States embargo against the island. But she said Cuba is pleased that American tourists can now "make and receive calls, send and receive text messages, and use data throughout Cuba's telecommunication network."
         Sprint, the American telecommunications giant, this week has forged ties with Cuba that bring the two neighboring countries a little closer together. The flags of both Cuba and the U. S. are red, white, and blue.
         The Cuban flag has one star. the American flag has 50 stars. It is not coincidental that both flags feature the same colors -- red, white, and blue. For the first time since 1961, this year, 2015, the flags have resumed flying at embassies in Havana and Washington. Separated by a mere 90 miles, the two nations have a lot in common. The Cuban people and the American people like each other. The biggest impediment to friendly and prosperous relations between Cuba and the United States right now is a U. S. Congress that caters to a handful of people who continue to benefit -- revengefully, economically, and politically -- from unfriendly relations. It's been that way since 1959. But now, more than ever, a lot of good people, including the ones mentioned above, are trying to move forward beyond the Cold War animus that has hurt so many people, especially Cubans on the island, for so long. Animosity may benefit a few but it hurts others. 
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