Former Sen. Bob Kerry's report on Cuba

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Tue Dec 3 09:48:01 MST 2002

(The former U.S. Senator from Nebraska is now
the President of the New School for Social
Research in New York City. Here he describes
his visit to Cuba and his policy proposals.

(They include normalization of relations and
the effective approval of the demands of the
Varela Project. He's no friend of the Cuban
Revolution, but he sees Washington's rather
limited credibility continually undercut by
the blockade, which he therefore opposes.
Coming after the recent US federal elections,
this represents a further break in support
for Washington's blockade of Cuba.)

From: "Announce Announce" <announce at>
Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2002 10:30:01 -0500
To: "Announce Announce"
 <Announce at>

From:  Bob Kerrey
Date:  November 26, 2002
Re:  University sponsored trip to Cuba

For four days beginning on Thursday, November 7, 2002, I led
a New School University delegation on a visit to Cuba.  The
purpose of the trip, under a license granted by the U.S.
Treasury to the University, was to explore possible exchange
programs for the New School's Graduate Program in
International Affairs, to promote our Graduate Faculty's
Journal Donation Program, and to seek collaborative
agreements for the Interior Design and Architecture programs
at Parsons School of Design.  We found the possibility for
success in all three of these purposes to be real and
exciting, and are following through on each.

This report is not intended to detail these possibilities,
but to share my impressions and views with the University
Community after my first visit.  As a former U.S. Senator, I
felt it would be appropriate to inform Secretary of State
Colin Powell of the purpose of my visit.  In preparation for
the trip, I talked briefly with State Department staff
responsible for U.S.-Cuban relations and spoke at length
with former President Jimmy Carter.

Cuba is not just another country.  It is a nation that
provokes political debates that are among the most
contentious in the United States today.  It is the only
country towards which so much of the detail of our foreign
policy has been written into law.  Under law, American
travel and investment is prohibited, as is our support for
help through multi-national agencies like the World Bank and
the International Monetary Fund.  The United States and Cuba
have not had diplomatic relations since Cuba nationalized
U.S. property in 1960 and we followed by closing our

The extraordinarily passionate and sometimes violent seven
month debate over the fate of 6 year-old Elian Gonzales,
that commenced on Thanksgiving Day, 1999, is a reminder of
just how politically difficult the issue of U.S.-Cuba
relations is.   It took a pre-dawn raid by Federal agents to
seize the boy from his Miami relatives and a U.S. Supreme
Court rejection of their appeal for his return to them
before the boy and his father were allowed to return to

In 1991, when the Cold War ended, it was reasonable to
expect that U.S. policy towards Cuba would change as it did
towards the former Soviet Union.  It did change, but instead
of a general loosening, United States policy towards Cuba
has become more restrictive and rigid since the Soviet Union
collapsed.  And the violent feelings triggered by the Elian
Gonzales case were a reminder of just how alive the
political issue of Cuba still is.

During his five-day trip to Cuba in May 2002, President
Carter was the first American who was allowed to speak to a
nationally televised audience.  In his speech the former
President called attention to the petition of a dissident
movement called the Varela Project that had succeeded in
obtaining more than 11,000 Cuban signatures, as required
under the Cuban Constitution, to put an issue to a vote of
the people.

Father Felix Varela was a Spanish priest born in Santiago,
Cuba, but raised in St Augustine, Florida, when it was still
controlled by Spain.  He became a member of the Spanish
Parliament and was one of the first who advocated for the
independence of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.  For
this and other acts he was sentenced to death, but managed
to escape to New York City where he ministered to the poor
and continued his writing on behalf of a free Cuba.  In the
final years of his life, he returned to St. Augustine, where
he died in 1853, the birth year of another great Cuban
poet-freedom fighter, Jose Marti.

During our visit, we met with the leaders of this movement
at the U.S. Interest Section in Havana.  They are brave men
who describe the Varela Project as a peaceful civil process
seeking five fundamental changes in Cuban law.  These
include the right to freely associate in groups of their own
choosing; the right to speak and publish freely; the right
to own property; the right to contract for their own labor;
and the freedom for several hundred political prisoners.
Those Cubans who signed the petition are brave, too, for
along with their names, they were asked to reveal their
addresses and identification numbers.  They told us the
government was "checking the signatures" by questioning many
who had signed.  Cuba is not a police state, they told us,
but all of us have a "policeman in our heads" telling us
what we can and cannot do.  At a minimum their signatures
put their jobs and their careers at risk.

At a meeting with Ricardo Alarcon, President of the National
Assembly, we were told that the 11,000 signatures were not
legal and that the Constitution does not allow for such a
process.  He said the proposed changes would diminish the
current rights of Cubans to select their representation.
Although I am hardly an expert on the U.S. Constitution, let
alone the Cuban Constitution, I did tell him that I doubted
his answers would satisfy those who are making the appeal.
I told him several choruses of "boos" would greet me if I
gave such an answer to the people of Nebraska when I was
serving them in the Senate.

On several occasions during our trip, including a six-hour
meeting and dinner with President Fidel Castro, we heard the
question: How can a minority of Cuban-Americans dominate the
foreign policy debate in the United States?  It is an
interesting question with a very clear answer: In a
democracy a determined minority can make a huge difference
in the outcome of any debate.  Anyone who paid just a little
bit of attention to the 2000 Presidential election knows
that it takes 270 of 538 electoral votes to be declared the
winner.  Florida and New Jersey, the two states with the
largest Cuban-American communities, have a total of 40
electoral votes combined.  Informed observers will tell you
that support of the U.S. embargo is one of the keys to
winning either of these two states.  In my mind, there is no
doubt that Vice-President Gore would have won Florida were
it not for Attorney General Reno's correct decision to
return Elian Gonzales to Cuba.

All these political issues were forgotten at dinner on our
first night in Havana.  Our group was taken to a restaurant
where few Cubans can afford to go.  The $20 meal was
inexpensive by the standards of New York City, but it would
cost the average Cuban two months wages.  Throughout our
stay we ate our meals in the company of foreigners who could
afford to pay these prices.  But we were very much aware of
these contradictions.

Cuba is an appealing destination for foreign travel.  The
climate is temperate, the people are hospitable, the music
is exciting, and the 18th and 19th century Spanish
architecture is endlessly pleasing to the eye.  If you are a
foreigner from the United States, the absence of security
requirements is stunningly liberating.  It was easier for us
to visit President Castro than it was for me to enter the
offices of Debevoise and Plimpton, where New School
University held its Audit Committee meeting two days after
our return.

One of the most moving stories of a foreigner traveling to
Cuba was told by one member of our delegation, New School
University trustee, Julien Studley, and his brother, George.
In 1941, their family was allowed to migrate from Europe to
Havana and to escape the German army and Hitler's
extermination camps.  "The Cuban people saved our lives and
I will always be indebted to them," Julien told me before we
left.   Another, more politically charged return, was that
of Theodore Roosevelt IV, who accompanied us.  His
great-grandfather is still well known in Cuba for
participating in U.S. battles with Spain for control of
Kettle and San Juan Hills near Santiago de Cuba on the
afternoon of July 1, 1898, during the Spanish-American War.

Cuban leaders in and out of government recall the
Spanish-American War with some bitterness.  They had
suffered great casualties in their war for independence from
Spain, and in spite of an amendment to the U.S. Senate's
1898 declaration of war against Spain, disclaiming any
intent to control Cuba, the U.S. remained in control of Cuba
for five years.  However, when the peace treaty, which had
been negotiated in Paris between the United States and Spain
without Cuban presence or input, was ratified by the Senate
in 1899, another amendment, named after Connecticut's
Republican Senator Platt, severely limited the independence
of Cuban foreign policy.

The history and the politics of U.S. involvement with Cuba
did not appear far from the thoughts of the government
officials we met during our stay.  Barely one hour after our
landing during our first meeting with Foreign Minister
Felipe Perez Roque, we heard a passionate and one-sided
attack on U.S. foreign policy that focused on the U.S.
economic and diplomatic embargo.  Foreign Minster Perez said
he was convinced that this embargo was the cause of most of
Cuba's problems and reacted forcefully to any suggestion
that Cuban law preventing Cubans from owning property and
contracting for their own wages had anything to do with
their troubles.

As I listened to and watched the people of Cuba during this
brief trip, I kept wondering how the United States could
engage more constructively with this island nation of 11
million.  From the Monroe Doctrine to the Platt Amendment to
the Bay of Pigs invasion to the Cuban Missile Crisis and to
the Helms-Burton Act and Elian Gonzales, the U.S. approach
towards Cuba has been dominated by confrontation.  Today's
number one confrontational argument is over the U.S.
embargo.  Unfortunately, the embargo has become a
self-indulgent distraction.  While the arguments fly back
and forth between the American left, opposing existing U.S.
law, and the American right, supporting it, the status and
living conditions of the people of Cuba too often get

I favor changing current law so that normal trade and travel
are not restricted.  I favor establishing normal diplomatic
relations with Cuba.  I voted against the embargo while a
member of the U.S. Senate.  However, unless current Cuban
law is changed to allow Cubans to own property, to contract
for their own labor, to freely associate, and to freely
communicate, the ending of the embargo may be more
beneficial to foreign investors than it would be to the

This position should not be interpreted to mean that I
believe we should offer to end our economic and diplomatic
restrictions in exchange for changes in Cuban law.  I
believe such conditions would merely prolong the status quo
and the debate, something both the Cuban government and its
harshest opponents may prefer.  I believe we will be in a
stronger position to lead a coalition of democratic nations
in support of political and economic freedoms.  With our
embargo lifted and normal diplomatic relations established,
we will find it much easier to show our friends in the
hemisphere that the most damaging embargo in Cuba is the one
their government imposes on their own people.

Those of us who care about the future of Cuba cannot naively
dismiss the politics of U.S.-Cuba relations.  My intent is
that New School University play a constructive role in
supporting the peaceful, civil movement for democratic
rights existing in Cuba today.  To do so we will attempt to
establish cooperative programs in the three areas I
described at the beginning of this memorandum: the New
School's Graduate Program in International Affairs, the
Graduate Faculty's Journal Donation Program, and the
Interior Design and Architecture programs at Parsons School
of Design.

Those of us who depend on the good work of others should
also not fail to thank them.  The thanks for this trip go to
Sandra Pettit in my office, Lissa Weinman, Director of the
Cuba Education Project at the World Policy Institute and
Michael Cohen, Director of the New School's Graduate Program
for International Affairs.

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