News Center

May 2018
Ever since President Trump tightened travel restrictions to Cuba last year, many Americans who would like to see the island nation’s verdant landscapes and vibrant arts scene have been waiting for more favorable political winds. In the meantime, you can dust off your guayabera shirts and salsa-dancing shoes, because the Kennedy Center is offering a little piece of Cuba in the capital.
April 2018
LIMA, PERU--The secretary general of the Organization of American States urged participating governments at the VIII Summit of the Americas to put more pressure on Cuba and “not allow a convenient indifference in the face of a dictatorial situation.”
March 2018
Tourists are lured to Havana by the ruin porn: the capital’s decaying, pastel colonial architecture, its 1950s-era cars and the fading faces of its founding revolutionaries, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. But when photographer Greg Kahn was on assignment in the city in 2012, he stumbled on a scene that gave him a glimpse of a different Cuba: a plaza full of young Cubans partying as a DJ played contemporary electronic dance music.
September 2017
The Trump administration will press its concerns about unexplained incidents harming American diplomats in Cuba during a meeting this week in Washington, as the United States considers shuttering its recently re-opened Embassy in Havana.
March 2017
In Havana’s iconic Bacardí building, teams of computer programmers are working for U.S. companies with the tacit permission of the Cuban government.
January 2017
HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. organizations that have worked closely with the outgoing Obama administration to improve relations with Cuba on Tuesday released a four-page letter to President-elect Donald Trump urging him not to act rashly toward the Communist-run nation.
December 2016
Alarmed by signs that its fragile relationship with the United States might fall apart under President-elect Donald Trump, the Cuban government is quietly reaching out to its contacts in the United States to determine how best to protect the communist regime’s tenuous diplomatic position.
November 2016

Shore Up Security at Sea

November 1, 2016

The United States has long waited for – and sometimes actively aspired to – regime change in Cuba. For nearly 60 years, the United States has opposed the Castro regime's misrule at home and support of communist insurgents and dictatorships abroad. Cuba's alliances with the now-defunct U.S.S.R., and more recently with Venezuela, added to the United States' distaste for the regime.
September 2016

A New Cuba

September 26, 2016

One afternoon last spring, President Obama sat on a stage at La Cervecería, a high-ceilinged beer hall on Havana Harbor, where he had been invited to preside over a gathering billed as “an entrepreneurship and opportunity event.” Just a few hundred feet down the harbor wall was the spot where, in 1960, a French cargo ship full of munitions exploded, in a lethal blast for which Fidel Castro blamed the C.I.A. But no one at La Cervecería was in the mood to dwell on history. Obama’s visit was the culmination of fifteen months of diplomatic engagement, which began when the U.S. and Cuba restored relations, on December 17, 2014, bringing an end to the United States’ longest-lasting hostile standoff with another nation: fifty-six years of bad blood and broken ties. An audience had gathered—a handpicked group of Cuban and American entrepreneurs, government officials, and journalists. Brian Chesky, the co-founder of Airbnb, one of the first American companies to receive a license to do business on the island, rose to speak with barely restrained wonder about the possibilities of Cuban commerce: Airbnb was in more than a hundred countries, and Cuba was its fastest-growing market.
June 2016
Miami, FL- The Cuba Study Group announced today that Andrew Otazo has joined the organization as its Executive Director. As such, he will be responsible for building on the organization’s success in shaping the historic shift in U.S.-Cuba relations. He will lead the group’s efforts to lift the U.S. embargo and encourage a constructive role for Cuban-Americans that focuses on facilitating changes in Cuba and supporting the Cuban people.
April 2016
If the U.S. embargo on Cuba is lifted in the near future, one of the reasons why is starting to take shape right now in places that at first blush seem unlikely stakeholders in what happens between the two nations – Ohio, Tennessee, Louisiana and Minnesota.
March 2016
MIAMI—On his historic visit to Havana on Sunday, President Barack Obama will be accompanied by a group of prominent Cuban-American businessmen who have one thing in common. For years, they all opposed the very kind of trip the president is taking.
Symbolic, an effort to burnish his legacy and prevent his Cuba policies from being reversed once he leaves office, a chance to nudge Cuba toward more openness, or simply ill-conceived and a reward for the Castro regime.
December 2015
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group announced today that its long-time Executive Director, Tomas Bilbao, will be stepping down at the end of the year to work with Avila Strategies, a public affairs consultancy that he founded. The Group issued the following statement
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today released the following statement on the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the historic shift in relations between the United States and Cuba
October 2015
The December 17 announcement took the world by surprise. There was everything: a sudden spy swap, a comprehensive set of measures to ease the embargo, and an unexpected promise to restore diplomatic relations, thereby ending 50 years of hostilities.
A group of powerful businessmen and Cuban professionals worked quietly for a decade promoting a change of policy towards Cuba as it was finally announced by the White House on December 17.
September 2015
Dr. Marlén Sánchez Gutiérrez of the Center for the Study of the World Economy at the University of Havana analyzes the costs and benefits of Cuba's potential return to the IMF and World Bank.
HOLGUIN, Cuba — In this quiet city in eastern Cuba, families know how ideology can divide. After Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, Olga Maria Saladrigas' family decided they disagreed with the country's new socialist system and fled to Miami.
For a country operating outside traditional business markets and business practices, answers to the most basic business questions aren’t so obvious.
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today released the following statement on news that President Obama has once again exercised his executive authority to further increase support for the Cuban people and further expand opportunities for the country’s growing entrepreneurial sector:
August 2015
MIAMI (WSVN) -- After several hours of prepping their work over hot stoves, several Cuban chefs will be offering exciting dishes to guests inside a South Florida restaurant on the same day the U.S. flag was raised in Havana.
Chef Gilberto Smith Alvarez, newly arrived from Havana on his first visit to the United States, is standing in the maw of American capitalism at its most voracious.
An analysis of Cuba's system of imports by Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva of the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana.
In Key West, a line snakes, sometimes for blocks, with people waiting for a chance to take a picture with the famous Southernmost Point marker, which proclaims Cuba is only 90 miles away. Now, diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba are officially re-established and connection with the people of Cuba is closer than ever. There's no better way to connect with someone than over food.
Miami, FL- The Cuba Study Group is pleased to announce the third installment of its Cuba Entrepreneurial Exchange Program, which will take place in Miami from August 10th-14th. This exchange will bring four chefs from Cuba’s private culinary (paladares) scene to Miami for a week of exchanges with Miami-based chefs.
July 2015
The Cuba Study Group will release a study today conducted in collaboration with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management’s Risk Lab titled: “Supplying Growth: Purchasing Challenges and Opportunities for Cuban Entrepreneurs.” The report will be released at a public event at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, DC at 4pm.
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group issued the following statement today on news of President Obama’s announcement that an agreement has been reached with the Government of Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations which were severed on January 3, 1961:
May 2015
The Cuba Study Group released the following statement today on news of Cuba’s removal from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism
Article by independent Cuban journalist Miriam Leiva regarding engagement between U.S and Cuba following the December 17, 2014 announcement by both presidents.
When Cuban bikini maker Victor Rodríguez visited Miami this month, he was on a pilgrimage – not so much for bathing suits but for bandwidth.
Early on a recent Friday morning, four entrepreneurs visited the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce to give a briefing on their business journeys. But the chamber breakfast in Miami, capital of Cuban exiles, was a bit unusual: All four were from Cuba, members of the island’s growing private business class.
Let others consider the national and global political implications of the thawing relations between the United States and Cuba. Ruben Valladares looks at the small paper tray for french fries as he’s having lunch at a Pollo Tropical and wonders aloud how he might produce them back at his shop in Havana.
An analysis of Cuba's tax system for self-employed workers by Saira Pons Pérez of the University of Havana's Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy.
Miami, FL- A group of four independent Cuban entrepreneurs are in Miami this week for a series of exchanges with Miami businesses as part of the Cuba Study Group’s Cuba Entrepreneurial Exchange Program.
April 2015
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group released the following statement today following news of Cuba’s removal from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism:
January 2015
Washington, DC- Representatives of the Cuba Study Group today joined over seventy other Cuban Americans and foreign policy experts in signing an Open Letter to President Obama: Support for a New Course on Cuba ahead of the State of the Union Address. The letter urges President Obama to continue to call on the Cuban government to respect the human rights of the Cuban people and to work with Congress to update the legislative framework with regard to Cuba.
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group released the following statement today following the publication by the U.S. Treasury Department and U.S. Department of Commerce of regulatory amendments to existing Cuba sanctions
On a sunny day this past summer, two entrepreneurs met in South Beach to talk about artisanal soaps. They exchanged stories about how they became interested in the soap-making business and discussed their favorite places to buy supplies and how to develop their favorite scents. What makes this seemingly routine meeting between entrepreneurs different is that Ricardo is a Cuban-American with an established soap-making business in Miami and Sandra is one of Cuba’s half a million nascent entrepreneurs and sells her soap out of a storefront in Old Havana.

The End of Policy

January 10, 2015

On December 17, President Obama took bold actions to start unraveling one of the longest foreign-policy morasses in recent history. For nearly 55 years, we have kept in place a failed policy. In the early years of the Cuban revolution, we tried nearly everything to bring down the Cuban regime, including the imposition of sanctions, which over time became the most severe set of sanctions imposed on any foe.
When President Obama announced that he would reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba and take steps to increase the free flow of people, resources and information to the island, he delivered an important blow to the myth of resource denial as a viable policy.
December 2014
An analysis by Rafael Betancourt and Omar Everleny Perez of the portfolio of opportunities created by Cuba's new Foreign Investment Law No. 118.
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today applauded steps taken by the governments of the United States and Cuba, which can help improve long-strained relations and improve human rights and the quality of life for Cubans.
October 2014

How Business Can Change Cuba

October 17, 2014

Yamina Vicente has lived in communist Cuba her whole life. But it didn’t take her long to learn one of capitalism’s handier skills: creating market demand. Baby showers were practically unheard of in Cuba until last year, when Vicente started an event planning company called Decorazón. She learned about the gift-giving parties from American women visiting Cuba, then persuaded some of her clients in Havana to throw their own.
September 2014
MIAMI — A third annual conference on Cuban reconciliation is taking place in Miami. The conference Friday at Miami Dade College will feature academics and U.S. diplomats.
New speakers added, including keynote speaker Ambassador Tom Pickering, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. This conference will explore the role that dignity plays as a central element in facilitating reconciliation and consider how this knowledge may be applied to an eventual process of reconciliation among cubans.
August 2014
MIAMI – Cuba is a land that remains a mystery to most Americans. Are the economic changes instituted in recent years by President Raul Castro working? Can the dissident movement ever gain enough traction to overthrow the Communist government? Just how good is its acclaimed but flawed health care system? How many superstar baseball players are left down there? But when looking to the future of the island – a post-Castro period that is often contemplated by American government officials, business owners eager to explore that market and Cuban-Americans curious about their role in the island's future – one question intrigues me most: What kind of human capital is left in Cuba?
When you’ve spent your entire life on a communist island where staples like eggs and chicken are rationed, lunch in Miami can be overwhelming. Ask Sandra Aldama, a Cuban mother and former special education teacher who made her first visit to the United States this month. Settling into a downtown Italian restaurant as waiters whizzed by with plates of fettuccine alfredo and veal parmesan, Aldama was almost certainly reminded of what the average Cuban can’t get at home.
If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, perhaps a significant economic and social opening might gain footing in Cuba with the success of Sandra Aldama’s soap micro-business, or Marianela Pérez’s Pizzeria Nella.
A fledgling private sector is taking root in communist Cuba. Last week a group of Cuban entrepreneurs made an unprecedented visit to Miami to learn how to run a business -- and to convince Americans they’re the real deal.
One of the Cuban women makes fancy soaps. Another is a party planner, and a third owns a combination beauty parlor-gym. One owns a restaurant; another dreams of expanding her pizza parlor “to the rest of Cuba and more.”
December 2013
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today released the following statement on the occasion of the celebration of Human Rights Day:
November 2013
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today released the following statement in reaction to President Obama’s call for the continued updating of U.S. policy toward Cuba:
Reconciliation is a word still met with skepticism by Cubans in both the island and diaspora. Our political divisions follow deep grooves long carved into our national narrative, making it difficult for one side to recognize the merits or grievances of the other.
September 2013
Washington, DC - The Cuba Study Group released the following statement today following news of the passing of independent journalist and Cuban economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe:
February 2013
Washington, DC – Today the Cuba Study Group released a whitepaper titled: “Restoring Executive Authority Over U.S. Policy Toward Cuba,” calling on the U.S. Government to de-codify the Cuban embargo via the repeal of Helms-Burton and related statutory provisions that deny the United States the flexibility to respond swiftly and strategically to developments in Cuba as they take place. The document also outlines a series of immediate measures the Executive can take under existing licensing authority to secure and expand the free flow of resources and information to the Cuban people.
January 2013
Armando Chaguaceda and Dayrom Gil analyze voters turnout, abstensionism and null or blank votes and what they may say about voter behavior.
December 2012
Earlier this month, USAID subcontractor Alan Grossbegan his fourth year in a Cuban prison. Ever since his incarceration, a debate has raged over whether the United States should halt further efforts to engage with the Cuban people until the Cuban government releases Gross...
Cuban energy expert Ricardo Torres Perez analyses Cuba's energy sector and the potential impact of the discovery of large oil reserves off Cuba's coast.
November 2012
Miami, FL - The Cuba Study Group condemns the continued harassment and detention of peaceful democracy advocates and members of the independent press by the Cuban government. We call on Cuban authorities to cease the harassment of its citizens in violation of their internationally recognized rights to free and peaceful assembly and to immediately release all detained democracy advocates, including Antonio González Rodiles.
Dr. Juan Triana of the University of Havana analyzes the recent expansion of the self-employment sector and its impact on the cuban economy.
Dr. Antonio Romero, profesor of the Center of the study of the International Economy at the University of Havana, analyses Cuba's reinsertion into the international economy.
October 2012
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group regards the migration policy reforms announced today, which remove major impediments for Cubans seeking to travel abroad, as a positive step that partially devolves an important freedom to the Cuban people. Such changes could help reduce the isolation of the Cuban people and increase contacts between the United States and Cuban civil society.
July 2012
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group issued the following statement today in reaction to news of the untimely passing of prominent Cuban democracy advocate Oswaldo Payá, founder and leader of the Movimiento Cristiano de Liberación:
While American and European companies provide unmatched platforms for free expression and citizen journalism, misapplications of export regulations have created a chilling effect on the free flow of information to those living under repressive regimes. We are writing to urge you to take necessary steps to ensure important Internet communication services provided by your companies are not unnecessarily blocked for individuals in sanctioned countries.
Washington, DC- In a continued effort to advocate for steps that help break the isolation of the Cuban people, the Cuba Study Group today signed on to a letter addressed to chief executives of some of the most important technology companies urging them to take the following steps:
June 2012
Dagoberto Valdes, editor of Convivencia Cuba, analyzes the availability of projects for Cuba's future.
May 2012
The Cuba Study Group issued the following statement today in reaction to efforts in Congress to criminalize family travel to Cuba and to deny Cuban immigrants their rights under the Cuban Adjustment Act:
Thank you Chairman Gallegly, Ranking Member Lofgren and honorable members of the Committee for this opportunity to present a point of view that often goes unrepresented in this body, despite the fact that it reflects the opinions of the overwhelming majority of the Cuban-American community. I believe it is important to provide this perspective on a bill that amounts to little more than yet another travel ban to Cuba and which does so by targeting a long-standing benefit afforded to our community, which has helped it assimilate and contribute to the United States for decades.
April 2012
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today issued the following statement in reaction to the continued and increased detention and harassment of peaceful democracy advocates by the Cuban government:
Lenier Gonzalez, co-editor of Espacio Laical, analyzes the Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Cuba and the role of Catholic Church in Cuba.
HAVANA — The setting was historic. The looming 18th-century Seminary of San Carlos in Old Havana. The attendance remarkable. A hall packed with professors, dissidents, clergy, bloggers, leftists, diplomats. The subject matter once unthinkable.
March 2012
Like his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cuba at a crucial time in the nation’s history. Pope John Paul II visited in 1998, a time when Communist Europe had crumbled and expectations of change were high; Pope Benedict XVI landed during a time of unprecedented internal change.
Economist and independent journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe analyzes the First Conference of the Communist Party of Cuba celebrated in January 2012
February 2012
A central piece in the recent reform of the Cuban economic model is the opening to a small-scale nongovernmental sector: self-employed workers, private micro businesses and small farmers. In addition, a future expansion to include cooperatives has been announced beyond, the agricultural sector where it has always existed. This part of the reform is connected to another decision by which employment in the governmental sector is reduced by more than one million workers in order to increase productivity of state companies and make structures of the different ministries more efficient. Authorities plan that by 2015 more than 35% of the workforce will be employed in the private and cooperative sector.
December 2011
MIAMI — Luis Damian came to the U.S. from Cuba nearly a decade ago and has never returned. Nor does he frequently send money to his relatives on the island.
Supporters of unrestricted Cuban American travel and remittances to Cuba demanded Wednesday that Congress reject a bid by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart to again put a tight limit on the trips and cash assistance allowed.
In this issue, Lenier Gonzalez Mederos, editor of Espacio Laical analyzes the role of independent media in Cuba.
October 2011
The Cuba Study Group issued the following statement today in reaction to news of the passing of Laura Pollán, co-founder of the Ladies in White:
Roberto Veiga Gonzalez, editor of the Catholic publication Espacio Laical, reflects on the role of the Catholic Church in Cuba and its role in helping shape the island's future.
September 2011
The Cuba Study Group issued the following statement today in reaction to the increased harassment and detention of peaceful democracy advocates by the Cuba government:

“We call on the Cuban government to immediately cease its repression of peaceful democracy advocates and to take the necessary steps to protect the individual rights of Cuban citizens.”
August 2011
University of Havana Profesorr and Economist Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva examines the updating of Cuba's economic model.
June 2011
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today issued the following statement in reaction to an amendment offered yesterday by Representative Mario Diaz-Balart to an appropriations bill, which would restrict the ability of Cuban-Americans to visit and help their families in Cuba.
“The Cuba Study Group condemns the continued repression of peaceful human rights and democracy activists by the Cuban regime. Despite positive steps taken to release the 52 remaining political prisoners from the black spring of 2003, the Cuban government has continued to harass and repress peaceful human rights and democracy activists with arbitrary detentions, acts of repudiation and now, even with lengthy prison sentences. As the Cuban regime seeks to reform its economy and to attempt to attract foreign investment, it must know that the international community demands that it take substantive and irreversible steps to respect the individual rights of its people. Only then, will Cuba be on a path toward prosperity and its reintegration into the international community."

May 2011
The Cuba Study Group strongly condemns the beating and subsequent death of peaceful Cuban human rights activist Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia by agents of the Cuban National Police. Such acts of police brutality are universally condemned, and we call on the Cuban Government to launch an immediate and exhaustive investigation to bring those responsible to justice in a timely and expeditious manner. We express our deepest sympathy and condolences to Mr. Soto Garcia’s friends and family.
April 2011
Microfinance Focus April 25, 2011: The Cuba Study Group in collaboration with Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Center for Financial Inclusion at ACCION International, recently released a whitepaper titled ‘Supporting Small Business in Cuba: Recommendations for Private and Public Sector Leaders.’
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today released a whitepaper in collaboration with Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Center for Financial Inclusion at ACCION International entitled: “Supporting Small Business in Cuba: Recommendations for Private and Public Sector Leaders.” The report is being released just days before the Communist Party of Cuba celebrates its sixth congress --its first in 13 years-- and outlines specific steps the Cuban government, the U.S. government and private sector, NGO and foundation leaders can take to support micro and small businesses in Cuba.
The Cuba Study Group, Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Center for Financial Inclusion at ACCION International will release Thursday in Washington a plan titled "Assisting Small Business in Cuba: Recommendations for Private and Public Sector Leaders."
Cuba’s decision to allow more private economic activity is an opportunity for the U.S. government and others to support the growth of small and micro enterprises on the island, according to a report made public Thursday. “An orderly, market-oriented economic reform process is decidedly in the best interests of Cuba, the United States and the region,’’ said the 48-page report by the Cuba Study Group (CSG), led by centrist Miami businessman Carlos Saladrigas.
Washington – The economic revitalization of Cuba is going through a phase during which small and medium private businesses are being empowered by Havana and obstacles imposed by Washington on Cuban economic growth are being relaxed, the Cuba Study Group said Thursday.
MIAMI (AP) — A coalition of U.S. business leaders and economic experts on Thursday advocated new efforts to spur private enterprise in Cuba and help its residents. The Washington-based Cuba Study group and several nonprofits laid out a proposal including websites to match independent Cuban businesses with donors, and programs to allow people in the U.S. to take out loans on behalf of relatives on the island. It also favors allowing limited imports from independent workers and cooperatives in Cuba.
February 2011
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has “significant authority” to expand U.S.-Cuba links without approval from Congress, according to a report released Tuesday. The analysis was prepared by attorney Stephen Propst at the request of the Washington-based Cuba Study Group, which urges a peaceful transition to democracy on the Communist-ruled island.
News last week that French telecom Alcatel-Lucent SA has begun laying a 1,600-kilometer underwater fiber optic cable between Venezuela and Cuba is the latest evidence of how U.S. sanctions toward Cuba undermine U.S. national interests and push the communist island into the open arms of our adversaries and continue Cuban citizen’s dependence on the regime.
With up to one million state workers moving off the government payroll in the next year, President Raúl Castro and the Cuban leadership seem committed to strengthening the microenterprise and small business sector—with self-employment now the certain future of so many Cuban workers.
November 2010

My friend, the Cuban Peter Pan

November 19, 2010

In August 1961 a 12-year-old Cuban boy landed alone in Miami with $3 in cash. Carlos Saladrigas’s parents had sent their only child to the US. They feared that Fidel Castro’s new regime would indoctrinate him, or even send him away – to an “educational camp” or the Soviet Union.
October 2010
In an interview with Cuba Standard, Executive Director Tomás Bilbao, a former assistant of Senator Mel Martinez, explained the group’s microloan initiative, its attitudes regarding U.S. regime-change efforts on the island, and its proposal for U.S. economic engagement in Cuba.
September 2010
On Wednesday, a congressional committee may vote on a bill that would allow all Americans to travel to Cuba. There have been over 35 communist transitions. In every one of them, we engaged and helped bring about the gradual changes that eventually brought the Iron Curtain down. Conversely, a policy of isolation, as we apply to Cuba, has no precedent of success anywhere in bringing about the fall of a totalitarian system.
As a layoff notice, it was more blunt than what even corporate America puts out these days. But it's hard to sugarcoat letting half a million workers go — which is what Cuba's communist government, via its official labor union, announced on Monday. "Our state cannot and should not continue maintaining enterprises with inflated payrolls, losses that pull down our economy and make us counterproductive, generate bad habits and distort worker behavior," said a statement by the Cuban Workers' Central (CTC), making it known that some 500,000 government jobs will be eliminated by next spring. It also suggested something fairly anathema to socialism's collectivist dogma: how the unemployed find their way after the mass dismissal "depends in large part on the private management and initiative of the individual."
August 2010
August 1st, 2010 - Information has always been a liberating force, and throughout history, authoritarian regimes have always attempted to control it -- Cuba is no exception. Still, Cuba's recent liberalization of communication and technology has had a great impact. In March, the mothers, daughters and wives of Cuban prisoners of conscience -- known as the ``Ladies in White'' -- marched in Havana and were beaten by State Security in broad daylight. Camera phones, illegal up until 2008, captured many of the images that mobilized the outside world in solidarity within a scant matter of minutes. Later, news that Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas had agreed to abandon his hunger strike following news that the Cuban government had agreed to release 52 political prisoners was first announced by Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez via Twitter, where she later posted the first photo of ``El Coco'' drinking his first sip of water in 135 days. Traditionally, these regimes have resorted to isolation and the outright banning of information media to achieve their goals. Yet these closed societies have often faced a different kind of dilemma: the positive impact of technology on economic activity versus its liberalizing powers. Attempting to deal with this dilemma, modern dictatorships have opted instead for controlling information media rather than banning it. However, modern information and communications technology has presented two serious and fundamental challenges to dictatorial regimes. • It has democratized information in an unprecedented manner by empowering every citizen to be a producer, rather than a simple consumer, of information. • For those regimes that seek to prioritize economic growth, they are forced to balance the politically liberating forces of technology with the need to be competitive in an increasingly global marketplace. Cuba is not exempt from these challenges; rather, it is attempting to balance these challenges. The Cuban government needs to fundamentally reform the island's economy but deeply fears the political impact of widespread access to communication and technology tools. How it pursues that balance can be greatly facilitated or hindered by U.S. policy toward Cuba. As little as five years ago, there were just a few thousand mobile phones in Cuba, almost all of them in the hands of government officials, foreigners and members of the elite. Since Raúl Castro's announcement lifting the ban on cellphones, the number of cellphones is rapidly approaching one million by the end of 2010. The reason is simple: the economic benefits outweighed political concerns. It is unreasonable to expect the development of other forms of communication tools and technology in Cuba, such as the Internet and social media, without economic models to make them work. Current U.S. regulations restrict the access necessary to make this happen. In fact, the restrictions on Cuba are significantly more onerous and tough than those applied to countries like Iran, North Korea, Syria and Burma. Expanding the opportunities for U.S. telecom companies to provide cellphone and Internet service to the island will help ensure that Cuban citizens possess the tools they need in order to become agents of change. To say this does not deny or minimize the real controls that the Cuban government places on its own citizens' access to the Internet. But expanding citizens' access to even the most rudimentary technology in Cuba would be a giant step forward in empowering a new, independent generation of Cuban citizens. The Cuba Study Group in collaboration with the Brookings Institution and the Americas Society/Council of the Americas recently released a white paper, Empowering the Cuban People Through Technology: Recommendations for Private and Public Sector Leaders, which outlines specific steps the American government and private sector actors can take to facilitate Cuban's access to technology. The report is the result of work of the Group's Cuba IT & Social Media Initiative, which brought together more than 50 IT and telecommunications experts in an effort to identify ways to ensure that Cubans on the island have access to the technology they need to acquire and share information and communicate with each other and the outside world. The report is available at www.CubaITinitiative.org. Carlos Saladrigas is co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group.
July 2010
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today released the following statement in reaction to news of the Cuban government's commitment to release at least 52 political prisoners over the next three to four months: "We are extremely pleased by today's announcement that the Cuban government has committed to a process of freeing at least 52 political prisoners over the next three to four months. We welcome and appreciate the constructive role being played by the Catholic Church in Cuba in a process begun by members of civil society, including: Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the Ladies in White and Guillermo Fariñas. While we urge the Catholic Church to continue its role as a positive mediator, we recognize that a solution to the country's many problems requires a true national dialogue where members of Cuba's civil society are represented. In addition, we call on the Catholic Church of Cuba to continue its work to secure the release of all political prisoners, including over 100 additional individuals not addressed in today's announcement. The Cuba Study Group calls on U.S. officials to respond to the positive development in Cuba with substantive measures." The Archdiocese of Havana today issued a statement confirming that during a meeting today between Cuban President Raul Castro, Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, the Cuban government had committed to releasing at least 52 political prisoners over the next three to four months, beginning with five releases in the coming hours. ### .
June 2010
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today released the following statement in reaction to the harassment and detention of peaceful members of civil society by the Cuban government yesterday: "The Cuba Study Group condemns these repressive acts on peaceful members of Cuba's civil society by the Cuban government and calls for their immediate and unconditional release. We are disappointed and outraged that following what appeared to be positive conversations with members of the Catholic Church in Cuba and initial steps to improve the conditions of political prisoners, the Cuban government has resorted to repressive tactics. The Cuba Study Group reiterates its call on the Cuban government to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and to respect the human rights of the Cuban people." ### .
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today released the following statement in reaction to the news confirming the relocation of political prisoners following conversations between members of the Catholic Church in Cuba and members of the Cuban government: “The Cuba Study Group has consistently called for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Cuba. However, we are encouraged by news reports that appear to indicate that the Cuban government has begun to take constructive steps in relation to its political prisoners following talks held in the past couple of weeks with representatives of the Catholic Church in Cuba. As an important part of Cuba’s civil society, the Catholic Church is uniquely positioned to play this important role. We call on both sides to continue to work together to take steps that are in the best interest of the Cuban people and which could represent the beginning of much needed processes of national reconciliation and dialogue to solve Cuba’s many pressing problems. At the same time, the Cuba Study Group encourages U.S. officials to be prepared to respond to positive developments in Cuba with substantive measures.” On May 19th, Cardinal Jaime Ortega and President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba Dionisio Garcia met with Cuban President Raul Castro to discuss the conditions of political prisoners on the Island. In a subsequent press conference, Church officials announced that as a result of conversations held with Cuban President Raul Castro, they expected the Cuban government to transfer political prisoners to prisons near their hometowns, transfer sick prisoners to hospitals and take steps towards their eventual release. Today, it appears the Cuban government has begun to take positive and concrete steps. ### .
March 2010
Washington, DC- The Cuba Study Group today issued the following statement on the seventh anniversary of the imprisonment of 75 peaceful pro-democracy advocates and independent journalists by the Cuban government 53 remain in Cuban jails today: According to a 2010 report by Human Rights Watch, the restrictions on personal freedoms and human rights by the Cuban government has not improved under Raul Castro. Yesterday's acts of repudiation against the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), wives and family members of the political prisoners, is evidence of the Cuban government's continued use of repression and intimidation of its own people. Furthermore, the recent death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, highlights the deplorable conditions to which political prisoners are subjected in Cuba as well as the blatant disregard for human life by the Cuban government. The Cuba Study Group joins recent calls by the European Parliament, Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders and other nations and human rights organizations in condemning these acts of repression and calling on the Cuban government to immediately release the over 200 recognized political prisoners and prisoners of conscience on the island. We also call on the Cuban government to immediately grant access to the International Red Cross to all of its prisons and detentions centers, as it is the only country in the hemisphere that does not do so. ### .
February 2010
The Cuba Study Group today issued the following statement in response to news of the passing of Cuban democracy advocate Orlando Zapata Tamayo: “The Cuba Study Group expresses its most sincere condolences to the family and friends of Cuban democracy advocate Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and with all other political prisoners who still face inhumane conditions in Cuba’s prisons and their families. Tuesday’s passing of Orlando Zapata Tamayo was an avoidable and unnecessary tragedy and we reiterate our condemnation of the Cuban government’s continued repression of democracy advocates and the inhumane treatment of political prisoners. We again call on the Cuban government to release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience without delay. The Cuba Study Group also calls on the international community to stand in solidarity with the Cuban people, including those who bravely advocate for internationally recognized human rights, and to call on the Cuban government to release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.” .
December 2009
(Washington, DC)- Cuba Study Group Co-Chairman Carlos Saladrigas issued the following statement in response to acts of repudiation against peaceful Cuban democracy advocates on International Human Rights day: "Yesterday, aggressive actions were taken by pro-government mobs in Cuba against citizens peacefully celebrating International Human Rights day. Among the activists who were confronted and harassed by the organized acts of repudiation were the Ladies in White, a group of mothers, sisters and friends of jailed Cuban dissidents. The Cuba Study Group condemns these deplorable acts. The continued isolation of Cuba facilitates the regime's repressiveness. Experience from the transitions of European nations from communism shows that openness is a totalitarian regime's worst nightmare. Openness will make these types of act of repression more visible and will provide peaceful democracy advocates in Cuba with increased information, cover, support and contacts with the outside world. Openness will increase the visibility of these types of acts and make it more difficult for the Cuban regime to perpetrate them. Historically, the Cuban government has engaged in greater, more obvious repression at times when the United States is considering changes in its policy. It has done so in order to prevent such changes from taking place. We urge the Administration and the U.S. Congress to not ignore these precedents and to act judiciously while keeping the best interests of the collective Cuban people at the forefront of their policy-making decisions." ### .
August 2009
The Cuba Study Group was founded in 2001 over the realization that policies based on strategic rather that reactive considerations were needed, and we committed ourselves to seeking more practical, proactive and consensual approaches toward Cuba policy. Since then, the Group has sponsored numerous polls aimed at giving the exile community a voice and to promote the richness of diversity of thought that characterizes our community. And we have always stood by the results of our polls. Since it was announced that the Colombian artist Juanes planned to host a concert in Havana, there has been a vibrant and sometimes contentious debate over the merits of this particular concert and of cultural exchanges with the island in general. The Cuba Study Group believed it was important for the voice of the exile community to be heard on this issue and that is why we sponsored this poll. Even though 47% of respondents do not share our support for the concert in Cuba, our commitment to pursuing the truth has never depended on whether we like, or dislike, the results of our polls. As many of you know, the Cuba Study Group has long supported cultural exchanges, as we believe they help break the isolation of the Cuban people and offer them a window to the outside world. In fact, 50% of respondents also support cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, while only 34% oppose them. That is why we have supported [and continue to support] the concert proposed by Juanes and said that instead of closing the door on this opportunity, we should seize it and ask Juanes to send the Cuban people a message of hope, support, and fraternal affection. The Cuba Study Group has always expressed concern over the fact that the Cuban government may in fact be counting on the reaction of the exile community to do its dirty work and support the image of an intransigent and obstinate community that it has worked so hard to portray. The results of this poll demonstrate that that is a concern shared by an overwhelming majority of the exile community. The results show that 74% of our community believes that destruction of CDs with hammers and the burning of t-shirts by extremist elements of our community has a negative effect on the image of exiles in the United States. While we respect their opinions and right to protest, we reject these types of virulent reactions, as they only serve to feed the regime’s negative propaganda machine against the exile community. Forty* percent of those who oppose the concert feel the concert ignores the political realities of Cuba in one way or another. This coupled with the fact that 40% of respondents ages 18-34 are still undecided would suggest that Juanes could strengthen support in our community for this concert if he convinces the exile community that he is well informed about the realities in Cuba including violations of human rights, the existence of political prisoners and lack of personal freedoms and that he will not allow himself to be manipulated by the Cuban government. The Cuba Study Group along with many other organizations in the exile community and members of civil society inside the island continue to support this initiative. We continue to believe that any opportunity to break Cuba’s isolation from the outside world and expose civil society to a message of hope can be positive. We hope that the results of this poll will provide Juanes with a deeper insight into the legitimate concerns of the Cuban American community and help him deliver a positive message that will truly resonate on both sides of the Florida Straits.
July 2009
PREMIERE OF UNDER CUBAN SKIES: WORKERS AND THEIR RIGHTS An original film chronicling the realities of labor in Cuba MIAMI – Under Cuban Skies, a documentary filmed in Cuba and directed by Carlos Montaner, will premiere at the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy annual conference next week. At the event, economist and labor rights specialist George Plinio Montalván will describe the film’s findings related to U.S./Cuba policy. Under Cuban Skies features candid testimonials from Cubans both on and off the island who attest to the prominent role that factors like political loyalties, revolutionary fervor, and race play in ordinary Cubans' access to the island’s best-paying jobs: those that give them access to tourists' tips. The film also provides a first-hand comparison between labor conditions in hotels operated by multinational corporations in various countries and the exploitative conditions in those same corporations' Cuban hotels. WHEN: Thursday, July 30 1 o'clock p.m. *Cameras must be set-up by 12:50 p.m. WHERE: Hilton Downtown Miami Symphony I Ballroom 1601 Biscayne Boulevard Miami, Fl WHO: Carlos Saladrigas- Co-Chairman, Cuba Study Group George Plinio Montalván- Executive Producer Carlos Montaner- Film Director and Cinematographer *Panelists will be available to answer questions from the public following the screening. TRAILER: http://www.undercubanskies.com/trailers.html .
April 2009
Washington, DC - The Cuba Study Group today issued the following statement in reaction to statements by both the President Barack Obama and Raul Castro regarding the prospect of improved relations between the two nations: “We are encouraged by the statements made today by both President Obama and Raul Castro which suggest the possibility of a new era in the relationship between Cuba and the United States. While we are cautiously optimistic about Cuba’s willingness to discuss human rights, we hope that this statement will be followed by concrete actions such as those taken by the Obama Administration earlier this week when it lifted all restrictions on travel and remittances by Cuban-Americans. Both sides must be prepared to take concrete steps to remove measures that have isolated the two nations from one another and which bring greater prosperity and freedom to the Cuban people." ### .
March 2009
  Washington, DC - The Cuba Study Group today issued the following statement on the 6th anniversary of the Cuban government crackdown that resulted in the incarceration of 75 peaceful democracy advocates: "The Cuba Study Group calls on the Cuban government to immediately release the remaining 54 peaceful democracy advocates who were unjustly imprisoned in the spring of 2003 and who remain subjected to inhumane conditions and treatment in Cuban jails. The immediate release of these democracy advocates would represent an important step by Cuban leaders and open new possibilities for the relationship between Cuba and the United States." ### .
February 2009

Cuba Study Group praises Lugar report on Cuba policy

February 25, 2009

Cuba Study Group

The Cuba Study Group today issued the following statement regarding the report issued by Senator Richard Lugar recommending a new approach in U.S. policy toward Cuba: “The report issued this week by Senator Richard Lugar regarding U.S. policy toward Cuba is a thoughtful review of the obvious failures in our policies. Its recommendations for a new, more effective approach toward Cuba are very constructive and deserve careful consideration. We call on all members of Congress to work with Senator Lugar to explore ways to enhance the effectiveness of our policies and thus take advantage of this window of opportunity." A copy of the report can be found online at: www.lugar.senate.gov ### .
Washington, DC - The Cuba Study Group today issued the following statement in reaction to the recent attack on a Venezuelan synagogue: “The Cuba Study Group strongly condemns the recent attack on a synagogue in Caracas and calls on Venezuelan authorities to put an immediate end to the harassment and intimidation of the Jewish community in Venezuela and to bring to justice those responsible for this heinous act. We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community in Venezuela.” .
January 2009

Nuevas estrategias para Cuba

January 2, 2009

Analitica.com - Carolina Barrios,

Medio siglo cumplido de la revolución que llevó a Fidel Castro al poder convierte a Cuba en un fenómeno político de la superviviencia. Una sobrevida compartida, entre el mito heroico y el fracaso prosaico, como titula ‘The Economist’. Cuba, tan cercana geográficamente a los EE.UU., y a la colectividad de exilados en Florida, sin embargo es la isla más lejana. Distancia impuesta por nostalgias permanentes, proyectos frustrados, dolorosos recuerdos y familias divididas. La contradicción de Cuba se puede palpar en La Habana, donde los ‘chevrosaurios’, los autos de los años 50, piden pista todavía a los último modelo importados para la élite gubernamental y el turismo. La ciudad donde los carteles de “¡Hasta la victoria, siempre!” se entremezclan con bellos edificios de un glamour derrotado y descascarado, el regatton de las curvas sexies se baila frenético en las calles, mientras los habaneros más viejos y cansados sacan sus sillas a la vereda y ven pasar a los más jóvenes, que a los gritos comunican su nuevo símbolo de status – el celular-. Donde la escasez, la carestía de los alimentos –el 85% es importado- se sobrelleva con el siempre fiel plátano cubano, la dieta obligada para los últimos días del mes, cuando los chavitos no alcanzan. Donde un sueldo promedio es de u$s 20, lo mismo que la entrada a “El Capri”, el night club de moda entre los ricos y los turistas. Cuba sobrevive a pesar del embargo impuesto por Washington en 1962, un regalo en bandeja para Fidel Castro, que encontró en el bloqueo la excusa para culpar a los ‘gringos’ del fracaso del sistema y del pésimo manejo de la economía. Hoy, mientras lentamente la isla avanza hacia la apertura inaugurada por la presidencia de Raúl Castro, también fuera de ella algo se ha modificado: la actitud de los exilados. En la comunidad cubano-norteamericana, una nueva ‘movida’ propone que los cambios para Cuba sean generados por los cubanos de la isla y no desde Washington, donde prevalecen los intereses económicos de los empresarios exilados. Y los aportes de éstos a las campañas de los políticos. “No podemos seguir viendo el futuro de Cuba a través de los ojos de los que no conocen la Cuba actual” dice el cubano-norteamericano José Manuel Pallí en una entrevista telefónica para Ambito Financiero. Radicado en Miami y con acento bien porteño –llegó a Buenos Aires, de niño, en los 60, y en los 80 revalidó su título argentino de abogado en EE.UU.-, Pallí cree que hay que sacar el tema Cuba de la agenda de política doméstica estadounidense, porque los intereses en Washington constituyen un ‘obstáculo insalvable”. “Sólo habrá cambios si interactuamos con los cubanos de la isla”, agrega. Por eso es que este jurista, especialista en derecho notarial, en 2001 fundó el United States-Cuba Legal Forum, un organismo que busca conocer e interactuar con el ordenamiento jurídico de Cuba. Con el Forum visitó tres veces la isla entre 2002 y 2003 y organizó, desde la llegada de Fidel Castro al poder, el primer seminario de abogados norteamericanos y cubanos en La Habana. “En Cuba hay un sistema jurídico, con cada vez más graduados en derecho”, prosigue, “desconocido tanto por el público en general, como por gran parte de los mismo exilados cubanos en EE.UU.”. “Si uno no conoce ese sistema, distinto e imperfecto desde ya, si no se esmera en entenderlo, es imposible cambiarlo”, dice. · Vendidos La postura de Juan Manuel Pallí difiere de la de gran parte de la comunidad cubana en EE.UU., que cree que una vez que la isla se abra al mundo, habrá que empezar de cero, imponiendo los sistemas ‘occidentales’, incluidos los jurídicos. “Nuestro Forum tiene más aceptación en Cuba que en Miami, donde nos acusan de vendidos, de comunistas”, se queja. “Siempre se pusieron palos en la rueda para la apertura, tanto desde el régimen de la isla como desde la inmovilidad de la idiosincrasia de los cubano-americanos: con la excusa de que para levantar el embargo se tienen que dar condiciones especiales de diálogo, siempre nos quedamos en lo mismo, en un statu quo de doble anquilosamiento.” Y finaliza: “La mentalidad obcecada de la comunidad cubana en EE.UU., por ponerlo bonito, alega que lo de Cuba es un problema de dignidad y que es imposible otra cosa que un cambio total. Mientras tanto, para el estadounidense promedio el tema Cuba es intrascendente, lo mismo que para el presidente Obama, que hereda otros líos de mayor envergadura.” Otros de los que piden el cambio de Cuba sea generado desde la isla, es el Cuba Study Group (CSG). Esta ONG nació en 2001, después del episodio del ‘balsero” Elian González. Creada por un grupo de empresarios cubano-norteamericanos más jóvenes que la ‘vieja guardia’ de los Mas Canosa, se define por el “no al aislamiento de Cuba” y tiene constituido un Fondo Empresarial Cubano de u$s 300 millones, para financiar a pymes de la isla. El CSG pertenece al recién creado Consenso Cubano, una supraorganización que reúne a una veintena de nuevos foros y Ongs pro cubanos. “Creemos que los protagonistas del cambio serán los propios cubanos dentro de la isla y por eso apoyamos a las opciones generadas desde la sociedad civil o las propuestas por los que estén en el poder, además de buscarles apoyo internacional para facilitar esos procesos”, dice Tomas Bilbao, directivo de CSG. Con 30 años, nacido en Venezuela de madre santafecina y padre cubano, Bilbao no conoce la isla, aunque sí los vericuetos de Washington por haber trabajado con el senador Mel Martinez (Florida, republicano). · Cambios “Hay cambios profundos en la decisiva comunidad cubana de Florida respecto a la apertura”, señala Bilbao desde EE.UU. De acuerdo a una encuesta encargada por CSG a principios de diciembre a la Universidad de Florida, la opinión de los cubano-norteamericanos no es monolítica: 65% de ellos cree que el embargo no es una medida positiva, una gran mayoría considera que hay que hablar con el régimen y también una mayoría está en contra de las restricciones al envío de dinero y de viajes. Si no hay contacto con la isla, que tiene un sistema cerrado y restrictivo “no se puede conocer que está pasando allí”, opina Bilbao. “Por eso es que CSG pidió al gobierno en Washington que levante las restricciones para enviar dinero y visitar la isla, tanto para cubanoamericanos como para todos los estadounidenses”. Es la primera vez que una organización del exilio pide esta apertura amplia. “Si no rompemos con las barreras del aislamiento y el miedo, tanto en EE.UU. como en Cuba, no podremos ‘abrir’ la isla”, dice. Para Tomas Bilbao, “llegó la hora del cambio y de lo racional". "Si todos los empresarios cubano-americanos que todavía promueven la línea dura y pasional en Washington hubieran manejado sus empresas como EEUU manejó su política exterior hacia Cuba, todos ellos hoy estarían en bancarrota”, sentencia..
December 2008

Obama asked to lift restrictions on Cuba

December 11, 2008

Juan Carlos Chavez, El Nuevo Herald

The restrictions imposed by Washington on travel and remittances to Cuba hamper efforts to bring about a democratic transition in the Island and make even more difficult the processes of national reconciliation, as evidenced by a report of the Cuba Study Group (CSG), an organization formed by exiles based in Washington. The main conclusion of the study was that such measures should be eliminated immediately. The analysis made by the Group recommended to president elect Barack Obama lifting the restrictions established in 2004, since not only do they hamper the efforts of the internal dissidents, and make even more difficult the work of the groups that work for participatory democracy, but they are in direct opposition to the democratic values supported by the US culture. The policies of isolation against Cuba fail to benefit the exiled community and even less civil society, stated Tomás Bilbao, Executive Director of the CSG. ``It is time for the government of the United States to listen to the brave defenders of democracy and to the leaders of civil society in Cuba, who have requested a change in these policies”. The 12 page report titled Elimination of Restrictions on Travels and Remittances to Cuba: A Proposal for Unilateral Action, submits to the consideration of the future administration the unilateral elimination of all legal restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba for US residents and citizens, which currently regulate the travel of Cuban Americans with relatives in Cuba. Along the same lines, the CSG asked for the lifting of legal regulations that restrict remittances and money transfers to close relatives to $300 every three months. 'We believe that these steps are not only consistent with American values, but that they will allow US citizens to help the Cuban people living under extreme difficult conditions and will contribute to support the internal movement towards democracy”, states the document. Coincidentally, last Wednesday the Emergency Coalition for the Defense of Academic Travels (ECEDET), asked the Administration to eliminate restrictions to educational exchange organized by universities and research institutions in the United States. The regulations also required that the students register only for programs offered there by their own academic institutions. Last November, the ECEDET who has a membership of more than 400 academic and teachers, failed in its attempt to challenge the law against academic travels enacted by President George Bush in 2004. Wayne Smith, an ex diplomatic and promoter of relationships between Cuba and the United States, who heads the coalition, stated that the change would not imply an internal political erosion. “With a stroke of a pen [Obama] could erase the restrictions that govern academic travels. This would demonstrate an inclination from our side to walk in the right directions: indicated the professor of John Hopkins University. [Independent translation of original article] .
September 2008

Help for Cuba

September 24, 2008

Washington Times- Tomas Bilbao

For observers of the diplomatic chess match being played between Havana and Washington over humanitarian relief to the victims of hurricanes Gustav and Ike in Cuba, it is easy to overlook the positive steps taken by the U.S. government following its initial timid offer of $100,000 in assistance. Despite at least five rejections by the Cuban government of U.S. offers of assistance, the administration has moved quickly to get assistance to the victims of the hurricane damage in Cuba. These measures include: expediting licenses for nonprofit organizations wishing to send assistance to Cuba, delivering approximately $1.7 million in aid through nongovernmental organizations working in Cuba, and authorizing the sale of $250 million in agricultural goods to Cuba, including lumber. The latest U.S. offer includes $6.3 million worth of construction materials to help Cuba rebuild. Though these offers fall short of the immense estimated need for the Cuban people (projected to be between $4 billion and $5 billion), they represent positive steps that deserve praise. U.S. officials have proved their willingness to work with Cuban officials (even sit down with them) to make the legitimate U.S. offer of assistance more palpable for a regime with an already bruised ego. This tragedy has presented the U.S. government with a unique opportunity to demonstrate the generosity of America. U.S. officials' willingness to take these positive steps is evidence that some in our government understand the importance of this opportunity. Recognizing the Cuban government's stubborn unwillingness to accept U.S. assistance, these officials would do well to press on the administration the value of family-to-family assistance in circumstances such as this and advocate to suspend restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba by Cuban-Americans. The U.S. government's willingness to take these steps stands in contrast to a cruel regime that rejects the assistance its people so desperately need and prefers to play politics rather than ensure the well-being of its citizens. TOMAS BILBAO Executive Director Cuba Study Group Washington.
The Cuba Study Group is a non-profit, non-partisan organization comprised of business and community leaders of Cuban descent who share a common interest and vision of a free and democratic Cuba. Our mission is to facilitate peaceful change in Cuba leading to democracy, a free and open society, respect for human rights and the rule of law, a market-based economy and the reunification of the Cuban nation. On multiple occasions the Cuba Study Group has publicly and privately voiced its support for the unilateral lifting of restrictions on travel and remittances by Cuban-Americans to Cuba. We believe that such a move would be consistent with American and family values and in the best interests of the United States and the Cuban people. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights protects the rights of families to visit and send assistance to each other. In addition, such a move would be more consistent with U.S. policy given that the United States does not restrict travel to any other country on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Given the crisis created by hurricanes in Cuba it is more important than ever for Cubans to be able to assist their families on the island who directly or indirectly are suffering the devastation of these storms. Furthermore, it is our belief that contact between Cubans from across the Florida straits not only helps further U.S. goals of assisting civil society and breaking the information embargo, but that it is also the most efficient way to do so. Similarly, we believe that the ability of Cuban-Americans to assist their families on the island through cash remittances helps lessen their dependence on the Cuban government. While it is true that the Cuban government benefits from the excessive taxes it imposes on these cash remittances, we believe the benefits to the Cuban people far outweigh the benefits to the Cuban government. For these reasons, the Cuba Study Group wishes to express its support for the bi-partisan Humanitarian Relief to Cuba Act offered by Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), Acting Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
December 2007
In 1961, 12-year-old Cuban immigrant Carlos Saladrigas arrived alone in Miami with nothing but three dollars in his pocket, five bottles of rum, and a box of cigars. Now a successful businessman and a prominent U.S. critic of the Cuban regime, Saladrigas shares his thoughts on Fidel Castro’s decline and the political future of his homeland. Foreign Policy: Fidel Castro hinted this week, in a letter read on national television, that he may soon be stepping down to make room for a new generation of Cuban leaders. Since it seems that his brother Raúl has been primarily in charge for some time now, how significant would it be if Fidel gave up his formal role? Carlos Saladrigas: In many ways, what Fidel said, he’s said before. There’s not a whole lot that’s new. What is new is the way it was presented in the news there. Out of his whole, long letter, [the regime] chose to highlight the transfer of power to the younger generations. In Cuba, like in all Communist regimes, symbols like this are used to send messages, and they do mean a lot. So, I am optimistic that Fidel Castro is not going to renew or reaccept the significant post that he has had before, and that they’re paving the way for a significant reorganization of the government. FP: As someone who has been waiting for the end of the Castro era as long as you have, how does it feel to see him go out with a whimper rather than a bang? CS: I never expected a bang. That’s wishful thinking. This is a regime that still has significant strength, and unfortunately a lot of the policies we have had against Cuba for many years have only served to reinforce the regime rather than weaken it. This is the beginning of the end; there’s no question. Everyone in Cuba—including inside the regime—has a clear awareness that change is necessary. The question is: When, how, and in what manner? FP: From talking with people inside Cuba, what’s your sense of the mood in Havana these days? How aware are people there of these political developments? Do they have access to the same information we do? CS: They are getting the same information, but they don’t have access to the type of analysis and opinions that we get on this side. So, they formulate their own opinions. The rumor mill begins, and it takes on a life of its own to the point where people there are almost living in parallel reality. But there’s no doubt that the Cuban people’s expectations for change are rising, in great part because of the things Raúl Castro has been saying for over a year and a half. I would find it dumb, or at least difficult to understand, if this man were raising the type of expectations for change that he’s been raising and is not ready to deliver. FP: Is Fidel still viewed as the leader of Cuba or have we, in a sense, already entered the post-Fidel era? CS: Fidel, as a man, has always obtained an incredible amount of his legitimacy through the power of his personal charisma. That has served him well, not only internally, but externally. But for years, this man has been in decline. When you see your leader who you’ve come to respect—maybe not liked, but respected—on television telling people how to cook rice or how to fool around with a stupid light bulb, that’s not the image Cuba expects of its leader. FP: Some analysts say that while Cubans have been willing to put up with a certain amount of abject poverty under the Castro regime, they won’t be as patient under his successor. Do you think there’s anything to this argument? CS: There’s a lot of truth to that. Fidel Castro’s government obtained legitimacy in three fundamental ways. The first is his personal charisma. The second has been the perennial confrontation with the United States. That has been an incredible source of legitimacy for this regime, again both internally and externally. And the last has been the successes of the revolution in education and healthcare. Raúl Castro is inheriting a difficult situation. He doesn’t have Fidel’s charisma, so he cannot obtain charismatic legitimacy. I don’t think he’s willing or able to have this continuous confrontation with the United States. And the achievements of the revolution are crumbling due to a lack of infrastructure investment in these sectors for years and years. So, the only choice Raúl has for his government is to obtain legitimacy through results. And the only way they can achieve results is through major and significant reforms. The option of doing nothing is increasingly less attractive. FP: Do you think that if Fidel leaves his official position, it would make the lifting of the U.S. embargo any more likely? CS: A lot of it depends on what happens. If Fidel takes an elder statesman role and he is limited to what he is doing now, which is just giving opinions on any subject from A to Z, it will be highly irrelevant to Cuba’s future. If Cuba makes some serious changes—particularly economic changes—the next [U.S.] president, whether Republican or Democrat, is going to be hard-pressed to not respond in a meaningful way. I don’t think the United States can continue the foolish policy of saying, “I am not going to engage at all until the process of democratic consolidation is complete in Cuba.” This is the moment to engage more directly and have more Americans going to Cuba, whether academics or cultural exchanges, but particularly Cuban-Americans. That is going to strengthen the civil society movement in Cuba and the opposition. It is those forces that will ensure that the process of democratic reform will accelerate as the regime undertakes economic reforms. FP: Do you think that optimism like yours is pervasive in the Cuban-American community in Miami, or has there been too much false hope in recent years? CS: I think optimism here is very pervasive. The problem is: What kind of optimism? The Cuban-American community is split between those who believe in a “big-bang” theory of transition and those who believe that transitions are microprocesses that tend to work over time. The big-bang proponents are very optimistic that a social collapse is inevitable in Cuba, and there will be a huge power vacuum and the regime will collapse and somehow democracy will emerge like a phoenix out of that collapse. I, and the majority of others, believe that the more likely scenario is a gradual process of change. But either way, everybody’s optimistic. Carlos A. Saladrigas is vice chairman of Premier American Bank in Miami and the cochairman of the Cuba Study Group.
November 2007
Carlos Saladrigas es un hombre de negocios cubano-americano que copreside el Cuba Study Group, una organización nacida que aspira a cambiar las formas y los métodos con que el colectivo de exiiados de Miami se ha enfrentado hasta ahora a las cuestiones relacionadas con la isla. Las posturas moderadas de Saladrigas y su organización han cautivado al colectivo cubanoamericano residente en EEUU porque las nuevas generaciones creen más en el diálogo que en el enfrentamiento y en buscar vías de colaboración con la población civil de la isla, para llegar a una negociación política que pudiera abrir la puerta a la transición hacia la democracia. De hecho, según nuestro entrevistado, aunque todavía la voz que más se oye en los medios de comunicación es la del anticastrismo radical, la mayoría de los cubanos en el exilio consideran que el embargo es una política fallida. - ¿Cuándo y cómo se puso en marcha el Cuba Study Group? - El grupo se formó a raíz del caso del niño balsero Elián González. En ese momento, muchos en Miami nos dimos cuenta del grado de polarización al que había llegado el exilio cubano respecto a Cuba y a la opinión pública mundial. También nos dimos cuenta de cómo se dejaba este exilio ser manipulado por intereses extremistas de ambos lados del Estrecho, y de lo poco que importaba para algunos la efectividad de nuestra gestión opositora. De hecho la imagen frecuentemente proyectada de un exilio irracional, radical e intransigente, solo servia para reforzar el continuismo del régimen por aquellos que allá, y acá, así lo persiguen. Fue asombroso comprender como se parecen en su intransigencia, retórica y tácticas aquellos elementos continuistas en ambos lados de la disputa nacional de Cuba. En resumen, este episodio resultó ser muy bueno para los Republicanos, pero muy negativo para Cuba y su futuro. - Su posición es muy distinta a la que tradicionalmente han sostenido los sectores cubanoamericanos mas presentes en los medios de comunicación. ¿Se consideran una nueva alternativa para esta comunidad? - Aunque nuestras posturas son distintas de los sectores mas presentes en los medios de comunicación locales de Miami, nuestras posturas reflejan el sentir de una creciente mayoría del exilio cubano. Desde la formación del grupo, hemos conducido múltiples encuestas que han demostrado que el exilio cubano esta cambiando a pasos agigantados hacia posturas mas conciliatorias y productivas para un futuro diferente en Cuba. El exilio, de hecho, ya ha empezado su propio proceso de transición. Muchas organizaciones, como la tradicional Fundación Nacional Cubanoamericana, han demostrado la capacidad de cambio del exilio cubano y la disposición del mismo de dar pasos positivos y constructivos para procurar una Cuba nueva, generosa e incluyente, donde se vislumbre un futuro distinto y prometedor para todos los cubanos. Desafortunadamente, cuando mas se progresaba en la búsqueda de soluciones y posturas diferentes, los grandes inmovilistas en Cuba lanzaron la abusiva ola represiva donde se arrestaron injustamente a mas de 75 opositores, muchos de los cuales aún se encuentran en prisión. Es importante recalcar, que no basta con que se modere o cambie el exilio cubano, sino que es Cuba la que también tiene que dar pasos decisivos hacia el cambio y la reconciliación, o seguirá deslizándose de forma inexorable hacia el abismo del tercer mundo. - El partido Demócrata parece buscar ahora candidatos capaces de derrotar a los hermanos Díaz Balart y a Ros Lehtinen en sus feudos tradicionales y de dice que Joe García quiere convencer a Raúl Martínez, el ex alcalde de Hialeah, para que sea uno de ellos. ¿Apoyarían ustedes esa opción? - El Cuba Study Group es un grupo no partidista, y por lo tanto no tomamos posiciones ni ofrecemos endoso respecto a ningún candidato. Naturalmente, que como individuos si tenemos vida política, pero eso es a nivel personal. No obstante, aquellos políticos, de cualquier partido, que no se percaten de los cambios que están ocurriendo en Miami, perderán relevancia con el tiempo. - La defensa de unas relaciones menos tensas entre EEUU y Cuba parece estar bastante alejada de las intenciones actuales de Washington, expresadas recientemente por el propio presidente Bush. ¿Cree que estas posiciones podrían cambiar tras las próximas elecciones presidenciales? - Sea el próximo presidente Republicano o Demócrata, yo creo que se verá en la necesidad de efectuar cambios significativos en las políticas norteamericanas hacia Cuba. Hay un fuerte consenso emergente que considera que aislar a Cuba, como aislar a cualquier otro país totalitario, es una estrategia contraproducente. Además, si Cuba efectuara cambios importantes, como creo que tienen que hacer, y que van a hacer, esto presionaría de forma significativa a una futura administración a dar pasos que correspondan a los cambios en Cuba, aunque estos sean de forma calibrada. No obstante, Cuba tiene que crecer y madurar como nación, y dejar a un lado su obsesión con los EEUU. Al fin del día, Cuba tiene que dar los pasos necesarios para cambiar de rumbo, establecer una economía productiva, y crear un futuro distinto. Lo que hagan, o dejen de hacer los EEUU deberá ser una consideración secundaria. - Su innovadora propuesta de microcréditos para los pequeños emprendedores cubanos parece estar en línea con los deseos expresados últimamente por una buena parte de la población de la isla. ¿Cree que tanto La Habana como Washington llegarían a darles facilidades para llevar a cabo su plan? - Estamos convencidos de que Cuba debe comenzar a reformar su economía a través de la microeconomía. Solo así se podrán efectuar los cambios necesarios sin crear grandes desarticulaciones en los sectores mas vulnerables de la sociedad cubana. Cuba es un país totalmente descapitalizado, y no se podrá depender solamente de la inversión extranjera para capitalizarlo. Consideramos que es imprescindible que se cree una base de capital criollo, que utilice la gran riqueza humana que hay en Cuba. Es por esto que lanzamos nuestro proyecto de microcréditos, para facilitar el acceso al capital inicial que permitirá a los cubanos a convertirse en empresarios creadores de actividad productiva. Ojalá, que La Habana permita el desarrollo de este proyecto. Estamos convencidos que grandes sectores de la élite gubernamental saben que éste es un proyecto necesario, serio, e importante. - ¿Apoyarían ustedes un levantamiento total del embargo, incluso si Raúl Castro sucediera en el poder a su hermano Fidel? - Nuestras encuestas han demostrado que la mayoría del exilio cubano considera el embargo como una política fallida. En cierto sentido el embargo es tan anacronístico como la misma Revolución. Ambas son políticas del pasado que poco tienen que ver con el futuro de Cuba. El embargo ha sido, y ha servido, por muchos años como el gran chivo expiatorio de las políticas fallidas de la revolución cubana. Así como el drogadicto tiene que empezar el arduo camino de su recuperación reconociendo su verdadero problema, así Cuba tiene que dejar de echarle la culpa al embargo por sus propios fracasos. Cuba es pobre por diseño, no por destino. Las soluciones a los problemas de Cuba no radican en Washington, sino en La Habana. - ¿Cuál es la opción que maneja su grupo para asuntos como la compensación de las expropiaciones llevadas a cabo en la isla tras el triunfo de la Revolución? - Naturalmente, este es un tema muy delicado y complejo que aborda la economía, la justicia, la equidad, y la ética. Respecto a las propiedades residenciales y las pequeñas fincas agrícolas, tanto el Cuba Study Group como Consenso Cubano (una agrupación de organizaciones opositoras a la cual el Cuba Study Group pertenece) se han pronunciado a favor de proponer que estas propiedades han de pertenecer sin ningún tipo de limitación o gravamen a sus moradores, con el fin de disipar uno de los grandes temores al cambio, a la vez, que se libere el enorme valor de estas propiedades como activos financieros que puedan contribuir a la recapitalización de Cuba y a la creación de nuevas empresas. Aunque parezca extraño, sobre este tema de las propiedades residenciales hay un gran consenso dentro del exilio, aún de las organizaciones mas recalcitrantes e intransigentes del exilio histórico. Sin embargo, nosotros no hemos tomado ninguna posición respecto a las propiedades comerciales. Sobre esto, hay muchos y variados precedentes de todas las transiciones que ya han ocurrido, tanto en Europa como en Asia. De esta experiencia colectiva, hay numerosas lecciones de lo que ha sido exitoso y de los fallos y fracasos. Al fin de cuentas, para nosotros es mas importante enfocarnos en las etapas de comienzo de la necesaria transición que de preocuparnos prematuramente por los temas que serán relevantes en sus etapas de conclusión. Nosotros en el exilio debemos estar muy conciente, de que podemos proponer ideas y soluciones, pero que serán los cubanos de la isla los que finalmente disponen. Anhelamos que la toma de estas decisiones importantes sea un proceso incluyente donde se le de la voz que le pertenece al pueblo cubano. - Algunos medios de comunicación españoles han asegurado en estos días que su grupo considera adecuada la actual estrategia de la democracia española con respecto a Cuba. ¿Está de acuerdo con ese análisis? - Hemos sido absolutamente consistente sobre este tema desde el gobierno del presidente Aznar hasta el día de hoy. No se le puede cerrar la puerta al diálogo y a la participación, y muy especialmente en esta coyuntura, que pensamos es tan crítica, importante y delicada. No obstante que se deba fomentar el diálogo, la cooperación y la participación, estos tienen que estar basados en principios y valores fundamentales de la democracia española. Cuba no puede dictar lo que le incumbe y pertenece a España para decidir o hacer. Aunque las relaciones bilaterales han de estar basadas en el respeto mutuo y en la soberanía nacional de ambas naciones, es absurdo e inaceptable que España se deje intimidar por el régimen cubano. Las relaciones bilaterales no se limitan a los gobiernos, sino que son incluyentes de la sociedad civil y de la diversidad política del país. España no puede, ni debe, darle la espalda a la oposición pacífica de Cuba. Creo que hay un gran ejemplo de lo que es una política funcional y efectiva hacia Cuba, y es la Canadiense. Canadá ha mantenido una política de estado hacia Cuba firme y respetuosa, pero crítica, cuando ha de serlo, a través de los años, y nunca se ha dejado manipular ni por el régimen cubano, ni por Washington. España tiene las razones históricas y afectivas para desempeñar un papel importante y constructivo en el futuro de Cuba; y tiene la oportunidad. No creo que pueda haber otro país mas importante para Cuba, sin descartar, por supuesto, la importancia de los EEUU. Para esto hace falta una política de estado, ajena a las guerrillas partidarias que hoy desafortunadamente la afligen, y solidaria con Cuba y los cubanos, no sólo con su gobierno..
August 2007

Exiles announce economic initiative

August 4, 2007

Miami Herald- Oscar Corral

The Cuba Study Group, a moderate exile organization, plans to raise $300 million to help develop Cuba's post-communism economy by aiding business start-ups. Study Group Chairman Carlos Saladrigas announced the idea in Miami at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy. It's the Study Group's latest proposal to help broaden the discourse over the Cuban exile community's potential role in a post-Castro Cuba. The program obviously would require major policy changes by the Cuban and U.S. governments. But Saladrigas believes that simply talking economics instead of politics is a way to ease the tension between the two countries. 'We are not in the driver's seat of what's happening [in Cuba],' Saladrigas said. ``We have one alternative left -- be incredibly strategic and create conditions favorable for change.' Saladrigas criticized the U.S. government, saying it has failed to plan for a slow transition in Cuba, focusing instead on the 'big bang' theory of rapid political upheaval. 'What amazes me is how little the policy of the U.S. government is rooted in successful precedents of what happened in Eastern Europe,' Saladrigas said. To help give the 'enterprise fund' plan legitimacy, the Study Group's members, who include some wealthy Cuban exiles, will have no financial interest in the fund. The initiative is modeled after the successful U.S. enterprise funds created by Congress through the Support for Eastern European Democracy Act of 1989, following the fall of the Berlin Wall. The plan is designed to help small- and medium-size businesses in Cuba through equity investments, loans, technical assistance and training, Kelsey Vidaillet, 23, a graduate student at Florida International University , thinks the idea for the micro-loan program is a good step forward. One of the fund's top advisors is former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Nicholas Rey. 'There was a latent competence in Poland as there is in present-day Cuba with entrepreneurship,' Rey said. ``In both cases, you had 50 years of communism, with people making ends meet through all kinds of improvisations. The fund is a way to let people start all kinds of businesses from auto repair shops to appliance dealerships. We wouldn't be making political decisions. We'd be making business decisions.'.
Cuban-American business leaders on Friday called for the creation of a 300 million dollar fund to help build private enterprise in Cuba once the communist-run state adopts what they called "inevitable" reforms. The proposal, presented at a conference in Miami, is based on the Enterprise Funds that invested US grants in small and medium sized corporations in eastern European countries when they emerged from communism in the 1990s. The Cuba Study Group, an organization made up of Cuban-American business and community leaders, suggested that the US government, the European Union and private companies should each provide 100 million dollars for the "Cuban Enterprise Fund." The group made it clear the money would only be available once Cuba adopts reforms. US laws currently would not allow for the funds to be sent to the island, and Cuban legislation prohibits such private investments. But the group said the transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his younger brother Raul "represents a genuine window of opportunity" and called for the fund to be set up "in anticipation of the inevitable change that will occur in Cuba." It said the proposal will be sent to members of the US Congress. Cuba currently has a tiny private sector made up of entrepreneurs running small restaurants, stores repair shops or other small businesses. The businesses were first allowed to operate after Cuba lost billions of dollars in subsidies following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. As Cuba slowly recovered from the post-Soviet crisis that crippled its economy, authorities have cut back on the number of business licenses they hand out. But with ailing president Fidel Castro looking increasingly unlikely to return to power, there are rising expectations of gradual economic reforms. The 80-year-old veteran revolutionary leader handed power to his brother Raul, 76, on July 31, 2006 after undergoing gastro-intestinal surgery. "Fidel Castro doesn't consider the economy a priority, but Raul does," said political analyst Marifeli Perez-Stable, of the Inter-American think-tank. "Opinion polls we receive from the island, and that the Cuban government also has, show there is a strong expectation of economic changes. The economy is a priority for the majority of Cubans, and there is strong pressure on Raul Castro in this sense," she told AFP during a three-day conference of Cuba experts. Most Cuba-watchers believe change will be slow and gradual at best and that major reforms are unlikely as long as the older Castro still has a say in government affairs. Even though he has been convalescing in seclusion, Fidel Castro said in a article published by Cuban state media this week that he is still consulted on every major government decision..

In Cuba, time for some really new ideas

August 1, 2007

Miami Herald- Ana Menendez

Anniversaries -- with their leaden feet in the past -- are lifeless things, and their celebration is usually best left to children and romantics. But this anniversary offers a rare chance to look forward, a difficult exercise for a nation that has made a fetish of history, but one we cannot afford to pass up. On July 31, 2006, Fidel Castro, for the first time, stepped aside and ceded power to his brother Raúl. It was the beginning of the end, even if it came in a way both unpredictable and anticlimatic. A year later, a sick Castro still looms over Cuban politics, but his continuing presence should not obscure the fact that things are already changing on the island. The pace and scope of that change depend foremost on Cuba and its leaders, who still rule absolutely. But its outcome also will depend on us here in Miami and our willingness to let go of the dusty language and habits of nostalgia. ECHOES OF THE PAST Monday, Cuba's old sugar and cattle barons took out an ad in The Miami Herald, harking back to the glorious constitution of 1940. I have often praised that constitution, a model of liberal democracy. But we can't forget that it was a short-lived one -- almost immediately suspended by Fulgencio Batista after his coup. Cuba has produced wonderful poets and thinkers; unfortunately it has shown equal talent for nurturing horrendous political leaders. Fidel Castro didn't come from outer space; he came out of a tradition of caudillos and violence. Miami is awash in post-Castro studies. Enough plans, predictions and outright fantasies have been written to fell a small forest. All of it is worthless until we examine the roots of our misery: a tragic inability to find common ground. Fidel Castro proved a willing student of the rigid, uncompromising school. Raúl, who arguably has more blood on his hands, seems willing to relax the rhetoric. Even if the impulse is born more out of practical considerations than a sudden attack of benevolence, it's worth paying close attention. 'To have more we have to begin producing more,' The New York Times quoted him as saying on the anniversary of the Moncada assault. Radical stuff. Are we listening? UNUSUAL ADMISSION Of all the proposals to emerge in the last year, one of the best is a small, modest paper put out by the Cuba Study Group in September 2006. It begins with a bold statement: ``Because this proposal lacks the input and participation of knowledgeable individuals residing within Cuba, it is inherently flawed and lacking a most fundamental perspective.' A study on Cuba that begins by acknowledging the need for input by the Cuban people? It's radically refreshing. Victims have a right to their pain. But a humane policy needs to be built on more than a catalog of grievances, and the Cuba Study Group's plan acknowledges this. Though limited in range -- just 10 pages -- the paper makes several observations before going on to propose a simple first step to a true transition: micro-loans directly to the Cuban people. ``In the end, we believe that Cuba's future hinges on unleashing the human capital of the individual.' Of course, it can't happen without the Cuban government. A micro-lending program can be started through the Mexican Banco Compartamos. But first Cuban law must change to allow that kind of assistance. If Cuba's leaders can finally get past their paranoia and allow the future to take shape, it will be evidence they truly care for the ordinary Cuban people. If we can get past ours, it will show we do too.
June 2007

Miami's Cubans now prepared to play the waiting game

June 6, 2007

El Pais- Antonio Caño

There are more than 700,000 Cubans living in Florida, with a further 300,000 scattered throughout the rest of the United States. They are a powerful expatriate community that makes a substantial economic contribution to the island, and their views on its future vary. But broadly speaking, the younger generation is more inclined toward dialogue with the Castro regime than is usually understood. "Exile has made people pragmatic, more rational, and less emotional - in short more effective," says Carlos Saladrigas, president of the Cuba Study Group, and currently the man doing the most talking on behalf of Florida's Cuban exiles. Those in Miami hoping to see Fidel Castro overthrown by a US-backed invasion tend to be those who fled the island immediately after the revolution in 1959. They still have some influence in Washington, but they are no longer the majority voice among the Cuban exile community. "Most people have a more open approach to Cuba, and are prepared to work with the island," says Ricardo Bofill, president of the Cuban Human Rights Committee, and who left the island 16 years ago. Brian Latell, a researcher at the Institute of Cuban-American Affairs at the University of Miami, and the author of After Fidel, says that the "majority of Cubans are not interested in reclaiming assets appropriated by Castro: they were wealthy there, and they are wealthy here." Omar López Montenegro is typical of the Cubans in Miami who arrived as children in the 1990s, or were even born there. He arrived in 1994, and is the current head of the National Cuban American Foundation. "As the population changes, so do political perceptions," he says. Many Cubans living in the United States have left close family behind, and want a peaceful transition when Castro finally goes. They send around $1 billion back to the island each year, and paradoxically, these Cubans are the regime's second main source of foreign revenue after tourism. The US government prohibits its citizens from sending more than $100 a month to the island, and then only to immediate family members. The Cuban authorities take 20 percent of that, which prompts Omar López to ask: "If this is what we can do under these conditions, what will the future be like? This community's potential is enormous." Ricardo Bofill says that Miami will play the role of West Germany when the country was reunited with its former communist half. "Economically, the influence of the exile community on the future of Cuba will be huge, and that means we will have political influence as well." Carlos Saladrigas believes that closer ties are the future, and has talked to the government in Havana about setting up a $10-million fund to develop a micro-credit system in Cuba. But such initiatives have been heavily criticized by figures such as Frank Calzon, who heads the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba, a cross between a lobby and political group which stills sees diplomatic and economic pressure as the only way to establish democracy on the island. "Did anybody believe that Baby Doc would be different to Papa Doc?" asks Calzon: "So why should anybody believe that Raúl Castro will be better than Fidel?" The answer to that question, says Saladrigas, is that "this is the last opportunity Raúl has to save anything of the revolution." He believes that the exiled community's job is to "lower the price that the regime must pay to implement change, not raise it. If the price they have to pay is losing their lives, then they will never change. Furthermore, Iraq has shown us that you cannot build democracy out of ashes," he insists, adding: "You have to understand that Cuba will only change through reconciliation, just as happened in Spain, and in South Africa." The Cuban-American National Foundation shares this view. "The economic blockade has not worked," says López. He believes that the Cuban exiles must set an example: "People in Cuba see the exiles and see what it is like to live in a free society. They see how, in a free society, Cubans do well, and that they can choose to live how they want. That is the best political influence that we can exercise." But beyond this, nobody in Miami is looking for a political role in the future of Cuba. Ramón Raúl Sánchez, who heads the Democratic Movement group, which has sent humanitarian aid via fleets of small boats to Cuba over the last two decades, says that he will continue the strategy even after Castro dies. He is one of the few activists planning for that day. That said, he doesn't believe that anybody from the exile community will ever play a leading role in post-Castro Cuba. "I don't like any of the politicians in Miami," he says: "I like those who are in Cuba, fighting; I think that it should be one of them who leads the nation in the future." To differing degrees, most people in Miami and Washington share this point of view. Many Cubans now living in the United States say that they have no intention of returning. Surveys show that less than 15 percent of Cubans would return home if they could. For many, too much time has passed, and they have put down too many roots in the United States to make a return to the island worthwhile. For the rest, the distance between the two countries, less than 150 kilometers, means that they could easily travel back and forth from Florida. For the moment, the Cuban exile community in Florida will have to content itself with making plans - ones which are more realistic than before, but which are just as likely to fail. Castro remains firmly in power, and there is no reason to think that in the foreseeable future both sides will sit down to talk. This community, like so many others forced to flee their homeland, has been saying for years that the dictatorship is about to fall. Although now, despite Fidel's illness, there is a mood of fatalism that maybe this will never happen. But the Cuban exiles are changing, even if the authorities in Cuba insist that the Revolution will continue. "For Cuba to be reborn," says Saladrigas, "all Cubans must change: us here, and them over there; but at least we are changing." After so many years of false hopes, it seems that Miami's Cubans have realized that there isn't going to be a D-Day - the decisive moment when Castro's regime collapses in the face of those who have been fighting it for the last 50 years. "To think," says Bofill, "that the Cuban government is going to suddenly fall, and that the exiles are going to lead change is simply a utopia." .
January 2007

Waiting game

January 20, 2007

Financial Times- Simon Kuper and Pamela Druckerman

Andy Gomez left Cuba at the age of five, in 1961, three days before the Bay of Pigs invasion that failed to unseat Fidel Castro. Like many of the 700,000 Cubans in Miami-Dade county, Gomez still speaks English with a Cuban accent, and like most of them he has prospered in the US. He earned degrees from Harvard, raised children, grew a distinguished moustache, and became the University of Miami’s foremost expert on Cuba. His office is housed in the Casa Bacardi, a building sponsored by the Cuban rum family, on the university’s sunny campus. In one corridor hang photographs of the family home in Havana, taken by Gomez on a working visit to Cuba. You can see sewage running on the street outside. “If my parents saw it they would be really disappointed,” says Gomez. The house is now inhabited by a government official’s family, but Gomez’s father still keeps the deed in a safe in his bedroom in Miami. That was the dream of exiled Cubans - el exilio - here: to reclaim lost Havana. But Gomez says it will never happen. “Dad turns 80. It’s very sad. My brother and I were talking about the deed yesterday. What is it worth? Nothing.” While Fidel Castro, also recently 80, is ailing or dying, the exiles are giving up their old dreams. Most know they will never again live on the island 90 miles across the Florida straits, not even if it goes democratic after Castro’s death.....
December 2006

Exile groups join in urging an easing of Cuba restrictions

December 4, 2006

Miami Herald- Oscar Corral

An umbrella group of influential Cuban exile organizations has joined the growing chorus of Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits calling for the United States to ease restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. About two dozen exile organizations, speaking in unison under the umbrella group Consenso Cubano, or Cuban Consensus, will release a report today calling for the Bush administration to ease travel restrictions. The groups say U.S. policies that restrict Cubans from visiting family members and that limit remittances and other humanitarian aid ``violate fundamental rights of Cubans, damage the Cuban family, and constitute ethical contradictions.' The announcement underscores a growing rift between hard-line exile leaders who want to preserve the sanctions, and more moderate Cuban Americans in Miami and dissidents in Cuba who feel that increasing interaction can help promote a peaceful transition to democracy. The disconnection has manifested itself at a time that an ailing Fidel Castro is no longer in power in Cuba, having temporarily transferred authority to his brother Raúl. And last month, Democrats took control of the U.S. House and Senate, which could trigger a reexamination of U.S.-Cuba policy. Just last week, U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Díaz-Balart appeared on a popular Spanish-language television talk show, A Mano Limpia, in which they defended U.S. policy toward Cuba. The station conducted a viewer poll during the program, and it showed that most callers favored the easing of travel and remittance restrictions. `ON THE BRINK' 'We are on the brink of potentially monumental changes in Cuba relating to Fidel Castro's demise,' said state Rep. David Rivera, who spearheaded a call three years ago for the Bush administration to tighten the U.S. embargo. ``Now is not the time to be considering any relaxing of sanctions on the Castro dictatorship. That is not an option for the administration or the majority of Cuban Americans.' Consenso Cubano, which includes mostly moderate exile groups such as the Cuba Study Group, Democracy Movement and the Cuban American National Foundation, plans to hold a news conference today. Consenso groups are also asking the Cuban government to lift restrictions on family travel. 'The measures which limit or deny Cubans their fundamental rights to travel freely to and from Cuba for humanitarian or family reasons . and their ability to freely send and receive personal and family aid, violates the fundamental rights of Cubans,' said Consenso's ``humanitarian agenda.' Oscar Visiedo, executive director of the Instituto de Estudios Cubanos, or Institute of Cuban Studies (not to be confused with the Cuba Study Group), said current restrictions on family travel and humanitarian assistance seem to be impeding a democratic transition on the island. 'My personal opinion is that we've seen that current policy isn't working,' Visiedo said. The announcement comes just a few days after top dissidents in Cuba signed a letter saying that easing remittance and travel restrictions to Cuba would help them in their struggle for freedom and democracy from within Cuba. The dissidents said restrictions on family travel and on sending humanitarian aid ``in no way help the struggle for democracy we wage inside our country.' SHARED VIEWS? Marcelino Miyares, president of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano de Cuba, or Christian Democratic Party of Cuba, one of the Consenso organizations, said the dissidents' position shows that pro-democracy Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits are coming closer together in their policy thinking. 'They are thinking the same thing in Cuba as we are here,' Miyares said..
September 2006

An investment in Cuba's future

September 14, 2006

Miami Herald- Editorial Opinion

OUR OPINION: OFFER OF MICROLOANS AND IDEAS ENCOURAGES CHANGE The Cuban-American business leaders of the Cuba Study Group are putting their money where their hopes lie. The group has pledged $10 million as seed capital for a microloan program aimed at entrepreneurs inside of Cuba. That's not all. The nonprofit group proposes other ideas for jump-starting the moribund Cuban economy -- for whenever the Cuban government chooses to change direction. Constructive approach The ideas are compelling, as difficult as the obstacles to realizing them will be. Carlos A. Saladrigas, the group's co-chairman, argues that the process of change involves many little steps; the more options offered to the Cuban people, the easier and faster a transition may take place. The goal is to foster an economic-development model that creates and spreads wealth. Such a constructive approach is refreshing. Criticizing Cuba's dictatorship for bankrupting its economy and human-rights abuses, legitimate as those issues are, doesn't change the facts on the ground. Fundamental change should be initiated by Cubans on the island. Offering ideas and incentives helps encourage Cubans to take the needed plunge. The Cuba Study Group has partnered with Banco Compartamos, a Mexico bank with microlending experience. Compartamos would set up the loan program in Cuba, whenever permitted by Cuban and U.S. law. True, the current Cuban regime is unlikely to embrace the project. And the U.S. embargo would likely restrict U.S. residents from investing in such a project. But at some point Cuba will change, hopefully soon and peacefully rather than later and chaotically. Meanwhile, the $10 million fund will grow and remain available until Cubans on the island can shape their own futures. The Study Group makes other recommendations for Cuban authorities. One proposal is to issue titles to current occupants of residences and then set up a bank offering loans to homeowners using a small share of the property as collateral. Another recommendation is for a tax system that will finance investment in education and healthcare. The idea is to generate domestic capital investment that, combined with remittances and microloans, could unleash Cuba's entrepreneurial and human potential. Positive message Cubans on the island know that the current communist system is a failure -- but many fear change. In contrast, the Study Group's project sends a positive message: Cubans on the island will lead Cuba's rebuilding. Yet Cubans who have made good in exile want to contribute to the effort. 'This is for the Cubans who will shape the future,' Mr. Saladrigas says. ``We want nothing in return but to see Cubans succeed.'.
The key to Cuba's economic future lies in the hands of its most humble would-be entrepreneurs, according to a group of Cuban-American business leaders -- a belief that led them to create a new program of small-business loans they hope the Cuban government will soon allow them to implement. 'We need to use our experience as Cuban entrepreneurs to help those on the island,' said Miami businessman and Cuba Study Group co-chair Carlos Saladrigas at a press conference today. The program would work by giving microloans to people who want to start or expand a small enterprise, such as selling handcrafts to tourists. The initiative would arrange for local Cuban-American entrepreneurs to provide expertise to recipients of the loans. The Cuba Study Group, a Washington-based nonpartisan organization, has pledged $10 million in start-up funds for the initiative. Saladrigas emphasized that the most significant obstacle to the program are Cuban laws limiting private businesses, so an important audience for today's message was the Cuban government itself. 'We hope the government of Cuba will act in benefit of the Cuban people,' he said. ``As soon as Cuban law allows this, we will find a way to carry it out.' U.S. laws also limit how much Cuban Americans and Cuban exiles can send to their direct family members -- spouses, parents, children and siblings -- still living on the island to no more than $300 every three months. No money may be sent to cousins, aunts or uncles or nephews and nieces..

Cuban exile group wants to start loan program for those on island

September 11, 2006

Sun Sentinel- Laura Wides-Munoz (AP)

MIAMI -- Several Cuban-American business leaders are seeking to boost the Cuban entrepreneurial spirit with small business startup loans that they believe could help stimulate the island's economy, but the plan first has to overcome restrictions enforced by the U.S. and Cuban governments. The idea is to give microloans to people who want to start businesses such as selling food in the street. But the plan is a long shot, said Carlos Saladrigas, co-chairman of The Cuba Study Group, a nonpartisan Washington-based organization that has pledged $10 million in seed money and plans to announce the program Tuesday. The Cuban government prohibits most private enterprise, while U.S. law sets strict limits on sending money to the communist nation. Officials with the U.S. State and Treasury Departments had no immediate comment on the proposal. And despite Cuban President Fidel Castro's recent hand-off of power to his brother Raul, there is little sign of any major changes in Cuba's economic policies. ``But we believe we have to take risks and seize opportunities, and we believe change is under way in Cuba,' Saladrigas said. ``Raul Castro is not a spring chicken, and collective leadership always harbors the seeds of reform.' Similar microloan programs have become popular throughout Latin America, in parts of Asia and even in some areas of the U.S. The loans would also be accompanied by training to Cuban entrepreneurs. The Mexican bank Compartamos, which has offered microloans of less than $1,000 for more than 15 years, has agreed to work with the group if it gets permission. ``We realized it had a lot of sense, because in Cuba there are a lot of people with a lot of knowledge and education who don't have access to economic development,' said Javier Fernandez Cueto, Compartamos' strategic planning director. Saladrigas said his group did not want to see Cuba repeat the mistakes made in Latin America and violence-torn Iraq, where the focus was on large-scale reforms and too little emphasis was placed on economic development at the grass-roots level. ``Democracies are not phoenix birds, they don't just rise out of the ashes of collapsing societies,' he said. ``This is a way to begin at the bottom of society and empower the individual and help them become a stockholder in the new society.' On the Net: http://www.compartamos.com http://www.cubastudygroup.org.