About two weeks ago there was an explosion aboard BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig, tragically killing at least 11 rig-workers and eventually triggering a pipe-break that's now spewing an estimated 5,000 barrels into the Gulf of Mexico daily. As the oil slick has spread from its epicenter 50 or so miles off the coast of Louisiana to the Gulf state's shores, so have concerns that the disaster could severely harm the livelihoods of individuals--fishermen, for instance--and industries who depend on the vibrant, wildlife-rich ecosystem.
Speaking recently before a university audience in Kentucky, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shared her thoughts about the future of U.S.-Cuban relations. She touched on many headline-grabbing issues, but her comment that it's her “personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States, because they would then lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years" is what got Cuba's, and the international media's, attention.
On Monday, April 5th, two Cuban medical students spoke about
contemporary Cuba in an open forum at American University in
Washington, DC. The students, Yenaivis Fuentes Ascencio and Aníbal
Ramos Socarrás*, are the first students to receive visas from the
United States since 2002 after President Bush severely curtailed
academic exchanges between the United States and Cuba. In fact, in one
positive advancement under the Obama Administration, visas for Cubans
to travel to the United States are up approximately 65 percent overall,
according to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
On February 23, 2010, Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in a Havana hospital,
where he had been transferred from prison after an 83-day hunger strike
in Cuba. Mr. Zapata was among the 75 internal opposition activists
detained in Cuba in March of 2003. He and the others were quickly tried
and sentenced. Mr. Zapata was serving a 36-year sentence, extended
from an original three-year sentence. He was one of 55 Cubans who have
been designated by Amnesty International as “Prisoners of Conscience.”
The Latin America Working Group expresses our utmost sorrow at his
passing and our distress over this tragic and indefensible death. We
call upon the Cuban government to institute a thorough investigation
into Mr. Zapata’s death.
While some historic snowstorms and the President's Day recess sidetracked our congressional advocacy work in the first couple weeks of February, the introduction of the Peterson-Moran Cuba bill (HR 4645) has helped us regain our "travel for all" momentum and represents our best chance to end the travel ban on Cuba in 2010.