Will the N.Y. Philharmonic Make it to Cuba?


New York Philharmonic at a performance at the ...
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…by February?

From The New York Times:

If they cannot go as tourists, put ’em to work.

The New York Philharmonic canceled a trip to Havana last year because the United States government refused to allow its wealthy patrons to go along, saying they would essentially be tourists. That violates sanctions banning most travel to Cuba.

So the Philharmonic quietly resubmitted its application, this time adding a children’s concert and Kidzone beforehand and stating that the patrons would be involved in the activities, officials at the orchestra and in Washington said in recent interviews.

There’s more…

Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion


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This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR. It was written by George Friedman. I found it through Josh Marshall’s TPM:

On Sunday, Israeli naval forces intercepted the ships of a Turkish nongovernmental organization (NGO) delivering humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Israel had demanded that the vessels not go directly to Gaza but instead dock in Israeli ports, where the supplies would be offloaded and delivered to Gaza. The Turkish NGO refused, insisting on going directly to Gaza. Gunfire ensued when Israeli naval personnel boarded one of the vessels, and a significant number of the passengers and crew on the ship were killed or wounded.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon charged that the mission was simply an attempt to provoke the Israelis. That was certainly the case. The mission was designed to demonstrate that the Israelis were unreasonable and brutal. The hope was that Israel would be provoked to extreme action, further alienating Israel from the global community and possibly driving a wedge between Israel and the United States. The operation’s planners also hoped this would trigger a political crisis in Israel.

A logical Israeli response would have been avoiding falling into the provocation trap and suffering the political repercussions the Turkish NGO was trying to trigger. Instead, the Israelis decided to make a show of force. The Israelis appear to have reasoned that backing down would demonstrate weakness and encourage further flotillas to Gaza, unraveling the Israeli position vis-à-vis Hamas. In this thinking, a violent interception was a superior strategy to accommodation regardless of political consequences. Thus, the Israelis accepted the bait and were provoked.

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Internet Technology to the Rescue


From today’s New York Times, good news for oppressed societies yearning to — use the internet — be free:

Seeking to exploit the Internet’s potential for prying open closed societies, the Obama administration will permit technology companies to export online services like instant messaging, chat and photo sharing to Iran, Cuba and Sudan, a senior administration official said Sunday.

On Monday, he said, the Treasury Department will issue a general license for the export of free personal Internet services and software geared toward the populations in all three countries, allowing Microsoft, Yahoo and other providers to get around strict export restrictions.

Here’s the (imperfect) translation, for my Cuban blogger friends:

Buscando tomar ventaja del potencial del Internet para abrir sociedades cerradas, la administracion del Presidente Obama permitira a compañias tecnologicas exportar servicios de internet como mensajes instantaneos, chat y compartimiento de fotos a Iran, Cuba y Sudan, un representante de la administracion dijo el Domingo.

Hoy Lunes, el Departamento de Estado aprovara una licensia de tipo general para la exportacion de servicios gratuitos y software (?) dirijido a los ciudadanos  de estos tres paises, permitiendo a Microsoft, Yahoo y otros provedores evadir las estrictas restricciones de exportacion.

There’s more (en ingles)

Haiti Brings Former Adversaries Together…


…to work for healing and reconstruction.

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WASHINGTON – JANUARY 16: US President Barack Obama (L) former President Bill Clinton (C) and former President George W. Bush (R) walk to the Rose Garden to speak about relief for Haiti on January 16, 2010 in Washington DC. President Obama spoke about how the American people can help in the recovery and rebuilding effort going forward in Haiti. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

I’m sure Rush, Beck, et al, will find a way to demean this humane gesture.

Cancel Haiti’s Foreign Debt


From Foreign Policy magazine, a sensible, humane suggestion:

Haiti, as a nation, has suffered violence, unrest, juntas, and natural disasters. One thing it need not suffer anymore, given the earthquake? Its debt obligations. This Times of London article explains how Haiti became so indebted in the first place.

The appalling state of the country is a direct result of having offended a quite different celestial authority — the French. France gained the western third of the island of Hispaniola — the territory that is now Haiti — in 1697. It planted sugar and coffee, supported by an unprecedented increase in the importation of African slaves. Economically, the result was a success, but life as a slave was intolerable. Living conditions were squalid, disease was rife, and beatings and abuses were universal. The slaves’ life expectancy was 21 years. After a dramatic slave uprising that shook the western world, and 12 years of war, Haiti finally defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 and declared independence. But France demanded reparations: 150m francs, in gold.

I never knew this.

Maybe the French should give that money back. Just sayin…

There’s more from FP

(H/t @ezraklein)

Musical Diplomacy


Why not? We’ve tried everything else and it’s still not working.

When one of Cuba’s best-known musicians landed in the United States, his first appearance was not onstage, but on Capitol Hill.

Carlos Varela, often referred to as Cuba’s Bob Dylan, had come to remix an album with his good friend Jackson Browne. But he also hoped to help reshape relations between the United States and his homeland.

So before going to Hollywood to work on the album, he stopped in Washington early this month for meetings with legislators and a lunch with a senior White House official. Later he held a jam session in the House Budget Committee meeting room.

Almost everywhere Mr. Varela, 46, went during his weeks here, including at universities and policy institutes, small talk about music gave way to pressing, albeit polite, questions on policy.

“I don’t represent any government or political party,” he said. “But perhaps that’s why governments and politicians might be willing to listen to what I have to say.”

There’s more

Cuba, the U.S. and Baseball Diplomacy


In one of my novels, the children of communists and the children of counter-revolutionaries ignore their parents politics when they meet for an afternoon ballgame.

This could work for bilateral relations as well:

WASHINGTON (AP) — ”Pingpong diplomacy” thawed relations between the United States and China in 1971. Can ”baseball diplomacy” help do the same for the U.S. and Cuba?

Americans ranging from 12-year-old ballplayers to softballing senior citizens are visiting the communist island to engage in their own kind of field work, and there’s talk of another trip by a major league team.

These bat-and-ball initiatives come as the Obama administration takes steps toward improving relations with the Cold War rival, such as loosening financial and travel restrictions on Americans with relatives on the island.

”I think it would be good,” said former World Series MVP Livan Hernandez, who defected from Cuba in the 1990s. ”I want to come back to my own country. I miss my family, I miss my friends. I think it’s time to do something like that.”

There’s more…

The Holiest Place on Earth

is where an ancient hatred is a present day — four hour delayed — cooperation agreement.

And who was there to help push it through? A Secy!

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