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Posted on Saturday, 03.15.14

Supporters of stronger US relations with Cuba stage rare gathering in Miami
One panelist said Castro’s reforms are moving “not slowly, but not fast
enough” to meet the wishes of Cubans.
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
JTAMAYO@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM

A rare conference of supporters of normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations heard
calls Saturday for the Obama administration to allow more to the
island and remove it from a list of supporters of terrorism.

“This is historic” because of the participation by speakers from Cuba as
well as U.S. activists against Washington sanctions, said Hugo Cancio, a
veteran promoter of Cuban music in Miami and one of the conference
organizers.

More than 100 people attended the gathering at Miami’s Sofitel ,
including Cuban Americans known for their support for improving U.S.
relations with the island, other Latin Americans and some Anglo Americans.

The one-day Miami conference came as opponents of U.S. sanctions on Cuba
have been increasingly pushing the Obama Administration to improve
bilateral relations in its last three years in power.

Among the panelists were Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban foreign policy
expert at the of Denver, and Antonio Zamora, a Miami lawyer
and member of the Brigade 2506 that invaded Cuba in 1961. He now favors
normalizing bilateral relations.

Cancio said the State Department denied a visa to one invited panelist,
retired Havana diplomat Jesus Arboleya, and denied permission to attend
the conference to two Cuban diplomats in Washington – First Secretary
Juan Lamigueiro and General Counsel Llanio Gonzalez.

Cuba residents at the conference included Roberto Veiga, editor of the
Catholic magazine Espacio Laical; gay and Afro-Cuban rights activist
Yasmin Portales Machado; and Collin Laverty, a U.S. citizen who works
with U.S. visitors to the island.

Veiga said the economic and migration reforms adopted by ruler Raúl
Castro are positive, yet moving “not slowly, but not fast enough to
satisfy the needs of the vast majority” of Cuba’s 11 million people.

Some of the needed changes clearly would be risky for the government, he
added.

The issue of reforming Cuba’s one-party system remains “difficult,” and
there has not been enough discussion of changes needed in the island’s
judicial system.

Most Cubans favor “peaceful and profound” changes, Veiga added, as well
as the removal of foreign pressures, such as the ’s
linkage of relations to and the U.S. “blockade” – Havana’s
word for the trade .

Portales said the Cuban government may have had a legitimate reason to
adopt tough measures and controls during its sharpest confrontations
with the United States. But now Cubans and their country have lost some
of their “romanticism,” she added.

Crime has been increasing because of the growing inequalities in Cuba
society, Portales added – between those who have benefitted from
Castro’s economic reforms and those who have not, for example.

The “people to people” trips to Cuba – which allowed 100,000 U.S.
residents not of Cuban descent to visit the island last year for what
were supposed to be “substantial interactions” — have not worked out as
planned, Laverty said.

Obtaining U.S. government licenses for the group tours can be so
expensive and politically risky that companies charge high fees —
$3,000 and more for a week’s visit – that tend to limit the visitors to
white, wealthy and older Americans, he said.

About 90 percent of the people-to-people tours went through the Cuban
government’s Havanatour agency because the U.S. companies involved have
little experience in Cuba travel and must rely on others for their
arrangements, Laverty added.

Cuban agencies also charge the U.S. travelers far more than they charge
Canadians or Europeans for similar arrangements, he added.

His own application for a renewal of his license to handle the
people-to-people trips, issued by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office
of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces U.S. economic sanctions on
foreign countries, ran to 274 pages.

Cancio, who has staged several controversial concerts in Miami with
Cuban musicians, said he favors allowing Cuban American musicians like
Gloria Stefan and Willie Chirino, long banned from the island’s radio
waves, to perform in Cuba.

Some of the Miami musicians in fact have been invited to perform in Cuba
but have declined or put unacceptable conditions on their agreement,
Cancio added, apparently fearing a backlash from their Miami fans.

The conference was sponsored by four groups favoring improving U.S.-Cuba
relations: Cuban Americans for Engagement, the Foundation for the
Normalization of U.S./Cuban Relations, Generación Cambio Cubano and Cuba
Educational Travel

Source: Supporters of stronger US relations with Cuba stage rare
gathering in Miami – Cuba – MiamiHerald.com –
http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/15/3997526/supporters-of-stronger-us-relations.html

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