Tag Archives: communist

Communist Madison? City bristles at Sean Duffy’s remark

A Republican congressman from northern Wisconsin who derided Madison as a communist haven is not backing down from his comments even as those in the capital city that prides itself as being “77 square miles surrounded by reality” take offense.

Rep. Sean Duffy, who lives about 140 miles north in Wausau, called Madison a “communist community” in a recent Fox News interview and blasted the ongoing presidential recount. He alleged that election officials in Dane County, where Madison is located, were purposefully stalling so Wisconsin would miss the Dec. 13 deadline for certifying the vote.

After Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan demanded an apology on Wednesday, both sides took to Twitter to battle it out.

“The PC crowd is humorless,” Duffy, a former star of MTV’s “The Real World” in the 1990s, tweeted. “For those offended by my ‘communist’ comment, I’ll send a therapy dog to your ‘safe place’ of choice in Madison.”

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin called Duffy a “liar,” ”moron” and “charlatan.”

“I’m probably giving him too much credit by calling him a moron since he is so adept in misleading the good people of his district, folks who deserve better in regards to jobs and the future of their children,” Soglin said.

The only thing communist about Madison is that revenue generated there is redistributed to help economically struggling communities in Duffy’s district, Soglin said.

Residents of Madison, where the main campus of the University of Wisconsin is located, have long embraced their liberal leanings, taking pride in the city’s unofficial motto as “77 square miles surrounded by reality.” Democrat Hillary Clinton received 80 percent of the vote in Madison, while Donald Trump won Duffy’s home county with 57 percent of the vote.

Duffy is a vocal supporter of Trump and has been a frequent commentator on national news programs discussing his transition to the White House. He is also on the executive committee for Trump’s transition team.

Duffy’s northern Wisconsin district voted for Trump in the Republican primary, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the state by about 22,000 votes. With 70 percent of the general election vote recounted, Trump has only lost 82 votes so far to Clinton.

Duffy said in the Fox interview last week that Dane County, was taking “as long as they can” in recounting the votes. He falsely claimed that it was the only county doing a hand recount. It is one of 47 counties doing hand recounts. Another 13 are doing both hand and machine recounts, according to the state Elections Commission.

Dane County Election Clerk Scott McDonell said Thursday that workers have been recounting ballots 14 hours a day since the recount began to finish by the deadline, rejecting Duffy’s claims they were stalling.

“It’s a sad state of affairs for these Democrats who don’t believe in democracy and freedom and free elections,” Duffy said of Madison, which he described as a “progressive, liberal, communist community.”

Pocan, who represents Madison in Congress and used to live in the city, said Duffy ignores the fact that Madison is an economic driver for the whole state.

“His insinuation that my constituents are somehow un-American for exercising their political views is extremely alarming,” Pocan said in a statement. “At a time when our country stands divided, Congressman Duffy’s ‘Trumpizing’ of Wisconsin is the wrong direction for our state.”

After Duffy reacted to that by accusing people in Madison of being humorless, Pocan shot back on Twitter.

“Humorless is better than being senseless about Dane County providing 73% of new jobs in WI,” Pocan said. “Perhaps a $175K salary distorts your views.”

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who lives just outside of Madison and represents Dane County in the Legislature, called Duffy’s remarks “extremely offensive” and “beneath” a congressman.

“Their job is to build bridges, not burn them,” Erpenbach said. “I expect that out of a talk show radio host but not a congressman.”

Much uncertainty ahead in US-Cuba relationship

Fidel Castro’s passing removes what was long the single greatest psychological barrier to a warmer U.S.-Cuba relationship. But it also adds to the uncertainty ahead with the transition from an Obama to a Trump administration.

“A brutal dictator” of a “totalitarian island,” declared President-elect Donald Trump, underscoring the historical trauma still separating the countries.

A more restrained President Barack Obama, carefully promoting and working to preserve his own attempt to rebuild those ties, said history would assess Castro’s impact and that the Cuban people could reflect “with powerful emotions” about how their longtime leader influenced their country.

In death as in life, Castro has divided opinion: a revolutionary who stood up to American aggression or a ruthless dictator whose movement trampled human rights and democratic aspirations.

President Raul Castro, Fidel’s younger brother, is 85.

Their Communist Party shows no signs of opening up greater political space despite agreeing with the United States to re-establish embassies and facilitate greater trade and investment.

As Obama leaves office in January, his decision to engage rather than pressure Havana in the hopes of forging new bonds could quickly unravel.

Trump has hardly championed the effort and Republican leaders in Congress fiercely opposed Obama’s calls to end the 55-year-old U.S. trade embargo of the island.

“We know that this moment fills Cubans — in Cuba and in the United States — with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families and of the Cuban nation,” Obama said.

He offered neither condemnation nor praise for Castro, who outlasted invasion and assassination plots, and presided over the Cuban missile crisis, which took the world to the brink of nuclear war.

“History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him,” Obama said, adding that U.S.-Cuban relations shouldn’t be defined “by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends.”

Trump didn’t pass off his evaluation to the historians.

“Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades,” Trump said in a statement. “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”

Trump expressed hope that Castro’s death would mark a “move away from the horrors” toward a future where Cubans live in freedom.

But he said nothing about Obama’s project to reset ties, and even hailed the election support he received from veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion that was backed by the CIA.

Such a statement probably will irritate Havana, coming after a two-year period of intense diplomatic discussions with Washington that have done more to improve relations between the countries than anything in the past 51/2 decades.

Trump “is going to be looking for some movement in the right direction in order to have any sort of deal with Cuba,” his incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, told “Fox News Sunday.” And without that, Priebus said Trump “absolutely” would reverse Obama’s opening with Havana.

Castro’s reign began when his improbable insurrection ousted the U.S.-backed strongman Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Only 32 at the time, Castro was the youngest leader in Latin America and inspired revolutionaries as far afield as Africa and Asia.

But Castro’s socialist Cuba was anything but an idyll and the United States quickly became his fiercest opponent.

Members of Batista’s government went before summary courts, with at least 582 executed by firing squad in the first two years of Castro’s rule. Independent newspapers were closed. Gays were herded into camps for “re-education.” Tens of thousands were held as political prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled. After the Soviet Union vanished, Cuba’s economy collapsed.

In Miami and other American cities, a powerful emigre community emerged that was bitterly opposed to any improvement in U.S. relations with Castro’s government. For many years, their threat alone was enough to sink any attempts to bridge divides.

The dynamic began changing a decade ago, as Castro stepped back from public life. His health ailing, he handed over power to brother Raul in 2008 and a period of limited economic reforms was ushered in.

After Cuba’s government released American prisoner Alan Gross and agreed to a spy swap with Washington in 2014, Obama and Raul Castro felt they finally had enough trust to embark on a journey of rapprochement.

While some U.S. investment has opened up and travel rules for Americans are now greatly eased, the normalization has been limited because Obama could never get Republican lawmakers to end the vast restrictions tied up in the trade embargo. Triumphant alongside Trump in November, some GOP leaders have vowed to reverse Obama’s effort.

“Now that Fidel Castro is dead, the cruelty and oppression of his regime should die with him,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement Saturday. “Sadly, much work remains to secure the freedom of the Cuban people.”

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who is pushing legislation to scrap the embargo, said in an interview that Castro’s shadow “loomed over all the government’s decisions” even though he had left power. She hoped Trump and Republican leaders would respond to Castro’s death by at least not rolling back Obama’s openings to Cuba and perhaps advancing them.

During his campaign, Trump criticized Obama for striking a “very weak agreement” and threatened to reverse Obama’s executive orders “unless the Castro regime meets our demands.” He never laid out those demands, and at other times hinted about being amenable to more U.S. investment in Cuba.

As with much of his foreign policy, Trump never outlined clearly a set of policy objectives with Cuba. The ambiguity leaves much of the recent warming on uncertain ground. It’s unclear if Castro’s death, however powerful for castigators and champions, will dramatically sway Trump one way or the other.

Racist statements lead lawmakers to reject John Wayne Day

What a lawmaker intended as a benign resolution honoring John Wayne exploded into an emotional debate over decades-old racist comments.

The California Assembly defeated the official ode to John Wayne after several legislators described statements he made about racial minorities and his support for the anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee and John Birch Society.

Known as “Duke,” a nickname he picked up as a boy in Glendale, California, Wayne grew into the star of movies including “The Alamo,” “The Green Berets” and “True Grit,” for which he won an Academy Award, while portraying the gruff, rugged cowboys and brave soldiers who were his stock in trade.

Republican State Assemblyman Matthew Harper of Huntington Beach sought to declare May 26, 2016, as John Wayne Day to mark the day the actor was born.

“He had disturbing views towards race,” objected Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, leading off a 20-minute debate.

Alejo cited a 1971 interview with Playboy in which Wayne talked disparagingly about blacks.

“I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people,” he told the magazine.

Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, who is black, said he found Wayne’s comments personally offensive.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, cited his comments defending white Europeans’ encroachment on American Indians who Wayne once said “were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”

Wayne is the latest deceased white icon to recently come under attack. Former President Andrew Jackson, a slave owner and Indian fighter, is being removed from the face of the $20 bill. Princeton University recently announced that former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s name will remain on its public policy school despite calls to remove it because he was a segregationist.

Harper’s resolution fell on a 35-20 vote to what Harper called “the orthodoxy of political correctness.”

“Opposing the John Wayne Day resolution is like opposing apple pie, fireworks, baseball, the Free Enterprise system and the Fourth of July!” he said later in a written statement.

Harper said he sought the resolution, ACR137, to keep up with a Texas resolution commemorating Wayne’s birthday a year ago.

He represents the legislative district that includes John Wayne Airport in Orange County. The airport, among the largest in California, was renamed after Wayne’s death in 1979 and hosts a nine-foot-tall statue of the actor.

“I think the assemblyman would know if there was a cross word about having the airport named after him,” said Harper’s spokeswoman, Madeleine Cooper.

Several lawmakers supported the resolution, recalling Wayne as an American hero whose family created a namesake cancer foundation after his death.

“He stood for those big American values that we know and we love,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach.

Lawmakers have honored others despite controversies that eventually clouded their legacies, said Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine. Wagner cited President Franklin Roosevelt, who has been honored despite his internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

“Every one of us is imperfect,” Wagner said.

 

1st cruise from a US port in decades leaves Miami for Cuba

Passengers on May 1 set sail from Miami on a historic cruise to Cuba, the first in decades to depart from a U.S. seaport for the communist island nation.

Carnival Corp.’s 704-passenger Adonia left port on May 1 at 4:24 p.m., bound for Havana. Carnival’s Cuba cruises, operating under its Fathom brand, will also visit the ports of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba on the seven-day outing. Several Cuba-born passengers, among hundreds of others, were aboard, it said.

The cruise comes after Cuba loosened its policy banning Cuban-born people from arriving to the country by sea, a rule that threatened to stop the cruises from happening.

Restarting the cruises was an important element of a bid by President Barack Obama’s administration’s to increase tourism to Cuba after the Dec. 17, 2014, decision to restore diplomatic relations and move toward normalization.

The most recent such cruise, from another U.S. port, was in 1978.

When it first announced the cruises, Carnival said it would bar Cuban-born passengers due to the government’s policy. But the Cuban-American community in Miami complained and filed a discrimination lawsuit in response. After that, the company said it would only sail to Cuba if the policy changed, which Cuba did on April 22.

Carnival said the Adonia will cruise every other week from Miami to Cuba. Bookings will start at $1,800 per person and feature an array of cultural and educational activities, including Spanish lessons, Carnival’s website says.

Seventy-three-year-old passenger Rick Schneider told The Sun-Sentinel he had waited decades for the chance to make the journey. He bought a Cuban flag for the occasion, which he waved from the deck at protesters who opposed the cruises.

He said he once passed up taking a ferry trip to Cuba in 1957, adding “the time is now.”

The cruise is among the many changes in U.S.-Cuban relations since a thaw between the former Cold War foes began in late 2014. The thaw also led to a historic, two-day trip to Cuba in March by Obama, who met with Cuban counterpart Raul Castro and others.

The Cuban government says the shift in policy removes prohibitions enacted when Cuban exiles were launching attacks by sea after the first Cuban revolution.

On May 1, Arnold Donald, Carnival’s president and CEO, said the company worked and prepared to make the cruises a reality despite the challenges.

“Times of change often bring out emotions and clearly the histories here are very emotional for a number of people,” Donald told reporters.”

The Miami Herald reported that a boat carrying some activists protesting the trip to Cuba was nearby in Florida waters before the ship’s departure.

Mary Olive Reinhart, a retired parks service ranger, told the paper that she and some friends from the Philadelphia area were drawn to the voyage by the adventure of it all.

The Fathom brand said on its website that the trip was authorized under current people-to-people travel guidelines of the U.S. government and would include meetings with artists, musicians, business owners and families — along with Cuban shore excursions to traditional sites.

“It’s exciting to go places where we’re forbidden. For me, I want to be at home in the world — the whole world,” she added.

Reaction to the president’s new policy toward Cuba

The 53-year-old U.S. policy of isolating Cuba is a failed attempt to promote democracy and freedom, say the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — U.S. Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota — and its Peace and Security Task Force Chair, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California.

The Democrats, responding to President Barack Obama’s new policy toward Cuba, said in a joint statement, “Isolating Cuba separated the people of Cuba and their Cuban-American family members, and impaired our ability to build constructive relationships in Latin America.

“By restarting diplomatic relations and establishing a new embassy, the U.S. can start conversations on issues like commerce and human rights that have been dormant between our nations for too long. We applaud President Obama for his bold new approach and welcome news that, for the first time, both the U.S. and Cuba will attend the Summit of the America’s in 2015.”

The statement continued, “The president has laid out a promising path forward and now it is up to Congress to act. Congress must lift the trade embargo and normalize travel between our two nations, which are only 90 miles apart. The Congressional Progressive Caucus looks forward to working with President Obama and members of Congress who want to stabilize relations between the U.S. and Cuba.”

Other reaction to Obama’s announcement made on Dec. 17, on the eve of International Migrants Day:

• From the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities: “As Latino immigrant leaders, NALACC salutes the president for this clear-eyed and brave action. In his speech, the president noted that the policy of isolation that the United States has pursued for the past 50 years has failed to advance US interests and has harmed ordinary Cubans. We welcome these first steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba and harnessing the “power of people to people engagement,” as the president mentioned in his speech…

“Unfortunately, many of the punitive and isolating measures that continue to pose a barrier to normal relations with Cuba have been enshrined in U.S. Law. This is another instance, similar to immigration reform, where Presidential actions can move the debate forward, but eventually, Congress must act. We hope that a bi-partisan spirit will pervade and the necessary legislative steps to end the embargo will be taken very soon.”

• Inaugural poet Richard Blanco, whose mother fled Cuba while she was seven months pregnant. “There’s a whole sense of what it means to be a Cuban in Miami and what it means to be a Cuban in Cuba. And now we can have a dialogue and talk about what experiences we have in common and what things we can share.”

• U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Thomas J. Donohue: “We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish.”

• U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee: “I am hopeful that the Cuban government’s decision to release Alan Gross portends a desire to move toward democracy, openness, engagement, rule of law, and a free civil society.”

• U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat from Wisconsin: “I support normalizing relations with Cuba that will ease restrictions between our countries and put an end to 50 years of failed policy. It doesn’t make sense to have economic relations with a Communist nation like China, yet stay closed off to a nation just 90 miles off our coast.

“Now, Congress needs to act to end the embargo altogether and fully open up this new market to U.S exports. For years, farmers in Wisconsin have wanted to lift economic sanctions on Cuba and with today’s news we can look forward to new economic growth and job creation in agriculture, manufacturing and other sectors of our economy.”

• U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, a state with a substantial Cuban-American population: “This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois: “Opening the door with Cuba for trade, travel and the exchange of ideas will create a force for positive change in Cuba that more than 50 years of our current policy of exclusion could not achieve.”

Editor’s note: This report will be updated.

Text of President Obama’s remarks on Cuba

The text of President Barack Obama’s remarks on Dec. 17 on the release of American Alan Gross from a Cuban prison and on future diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The text was provided by the White House:

Good afternoon. Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.

In the most significant changes in our policy in more than 50 years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries. Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.

There’s a complicated history between the United States and Cuba. I was born in 1961 – just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just a few months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which tried to overthrow his regime. Over the next several decades, the relationship between our countries played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, and America’s steadfast opposition to communism. We are separated by just over 90 miles. But year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between our two countries.

Meanwhile, the Cuban exile community in the United States made enormous contributions to our country – in politics and business, culture and sports. Like immigrants before, Cubans helped remake America, even as they felt a painful yearning for the land and families they left behind. All of this bound America and Cuba in a unique relationship, at once family and foe.

Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these five decades. We have done so primarily through policies that aimed to isolate the island, preventing the most basic travel and commerce that Americans can enjoy anyplace else. And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people. Today, Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the Communist Party that came to power half a century ago.

Neither the American nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born. Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China – a far larger country also governed by a Communist Party. Nearly two decades ago, we re-established relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation.

That’s why – when I came into office – I promised to re-examine our Cuba policy. As a start, we lifted restrictions for Cuban-Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba. These changes, once controversial, now seem obvious. Cuban-Americans have been reunited with their families, and are the best possible ambassadors for our values. And through these exchanges, a younger generation of Cuban-Americans has increasingly questioned an approach that does more to keep Cuba closed off from an interconnected world.

While I have been prepared to take additional steps for some time, a major obstacle stood in our way – the wrongful imprisonment, in Cuba, of a U.S. citizen and USAID subcontractor Alan Gross for five years. Over many months, my administration has held discussions with the Cuban government about Alan’s case, and other aspects of our relationship. His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me, and to Cuba’s President Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case, and to address Cuba’s interest in the release of three Cuban agents who have been jailed in the United States for over 15 years.

Today, Alan returned home – reunited with his family at long last. Alan was released by the Cuban government on humanitarian grounds. Separately, in exchange for the three Cuban agents, Cuba today released one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba, and who has been imprisoned for nearly two decades. This man, whose sacrifice has been known to only a few, provided America with the information that allowed us to arrest the network of Cuban agents that included the men transferred to Cuba today, as well as other spies in the United States. This man is now safely on our shores.

Having recovered these two men who sacrificed for our country, I’m now taking steps to place the interests of the people of both countries at the heart of our policy.

First, I’ve instructed Secretary (of State John) Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961. Going forward, the United States will re-establish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

Where we can advance shared interests, we will – on issues like health, migration, counterterrorism, drug trafficking and disaster response. Indeed, we’ve seen the benefits of cooperation between our countries before. It was a Cuban, Carlos Finlay, who discovered that mosquitoes carry yellow fever; his work helped Walter Reed fight it. Cuba has sent hundreds of health care workers to Africa to fight Ebola, and I believe American and Cuban health care workers should work side by side to stop the spread of this deadly disease.

Now, where we disagree, we will raise those differences directly – as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba. But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement. After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.

Second, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. This review will be guided by the facts and the law. Terrorism has changed in the last several decades. At a time when we are focused on threats from al-Qaida to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction.

Third, we are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba. This is fundamentally about freedom and openness, and also expresses my belief in the power of people-to-people engagement. With the changes I’m announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island. Nobody represents America’s values better than the American people, and I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people.

I also believe that more resources should be able to reach the Cuban people. So we’re significantly increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, and removing limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people, and the emerging Cuban private sector.

I believe that American businesses should not be put at a disadvantage, and that increased commerce is good for Americans and for Cubans. So we will facilitate authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba. U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions. And it will be easier for U.S. exporters to sell goods in Cuba.

I believe in the free flow of information. Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe. So I’ve authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba. Businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.

These are the steps that I can take as president to change this policy. The embargo that’s been imposed for decades is now codified in legislation. As these changes unfold, I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.

Yesterday, I spoke with Raul Castro to finalize Alan Gross’s release and the exchange of prisoners, and to describe how we will move forward. I made clear my strong belief that Cuban society is constrained by restrictions on its citizens. In addition to the return of Alan Gross and the release of our intelligence agent, we welcome Cuba’s decision to release a substantial number of prisoners whose cases were directly raised with the Cuban government by my team. We welcome Cuba’s decision to provide more access to the Internet for its citizens, and to continue increasing engagement with international institutions like the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross that promote universal values.

But I’m under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans. The United States believes that no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there. While Cuba has made reforms to gradually open up its economy, we continue to believe that Cuban workers should be free to form unions, just as their citizens should be free to participate in the political process.

Moreover, given Cuba’s history, I expect it will continue to pursue foreign policies that will at times be sharply at odds with American interests. I do not expect the changes I am announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight. But I am convinced that through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.

To those who oppose the steps I’m announcing today, let me say that I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy. The question is how we uphold that commitment. I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result. Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. Even if that worked – and it hasn’t for 50 years – we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos. We are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities. In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens that we seek to help.

To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship. Some of you have looked to us as a source of hope, and we will continue to shine a light of freedom. Others have seen us as a former colonizer intent on controlling your future. José Martí once said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest.” Today, I am being honest with you. We can never erase the history between us, but we believe that you should be empowered to live with dignity and self-determination. Cubans have a saying about daily life: “No es facil” – it’s not easy. Today, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.

To those who have supported these measures, I thank you for being partners in our efforts. In particular, I want to thank His Holiness Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is; the government of Canada, which hosted our discussions with the Cuban government; and a bipartisan group of congressmen who have worked tirelessly for Alan Gross’s release, and for a new approach to advancing our interests and values in Cuba.

Finally, our shift in policy toward Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas. This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future. And I call on all of my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the Inter-American Charter. Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections. A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together – not to maintain power, not to secure vested interest, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens.

My fellow Americans, the city of Miami is only 200 miles (300 kilometers) or so from Havana. Countless thousands of Cubans have come to Miami – on planes and makeshift rafts; some with little but the shirt on their back and hope in their hearts. Today, Miami is often referred to as the capital of Latin America. But it is also a profoundly American city – a place that reminds us that ideals matter more than the color of our skin, or the circumstances of our birth; a demonstration of what the Cuban people can achieve, and the openness of the United States to our family to the South. Todos somos Americanos.

Change is hard – in our own lives, and in the lives of nations. And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders. But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future – for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.

Thank you. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

Bold push: Democrats in Florida call for shift in Cuba-US policy

When Charlie Crist went to Miami’s Little Havana recently, the Democratic candidate for governor stood before a crowd and said what few politicians have in decades of scrounging for votes in the Cuban-American neighborhood: End the trade embargo against Cuba.

“If you really care about people on the island, we need to get rid of the embargo and let freedom reign,” he said, shouting above a small band of protesters who responded with chants of “Shame on you!”

Crist’s supporters cheered louder.

It was a scene inconceivable just a few years ago, when politicians were careful about what they said on the issue, for fear of alienating Cuban-American voters, many of whom fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the 1960s.

But Democrats now sense an opening with newer Cuban arrivals and second-generation Cuban-Americans who favor resuming diplomatic relations with the communist island.

In a sign of just how much the climate has shifted, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who backed trade limits when she ran for president in 2008, is now calling for the embargo to be lifted. She described it as “Castro’s best friend” and said it hampers “our broader agenda across Latin America.”

Her words mark the first time a leading presidential contender from either political party has suggested reversing the 52-year-old policy.

The efforts represent the largest challenge to Cuban-American orthodoxy in decades and could help reshape American foreign policy.

It also could alter the political landscape in the largest swing-voting state, where Republicans long have dominated the Cuban vote by taking a hard line on the embargo.

Crist’s campaign will be the first statewide test of whether the trade restrictions are still a live wire for politicians in Florida, home to 70 percent of the nation’s Cubans.

Crist is a former Republican governor who once said he would only visit Cuba “when it’s free.” Now that he’s a Democrat and trying to regain his old job, he has floated the idea of going to Havana “to learn from the people of Cuba and help find opportunities for Florida businesses.”

He argues that the embargo has failed because it has not toppled the Castro government but has hurt the Cuban people. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” he told reporters at the opening of a campaign office in Little Havana.

Florida Republicans are outraged, casting Crist’s position as a betrayal of the Cuban-American community.

“I’m going to stand with Cuban-Americans that believe in freedom, believe in democracy, believe in freedom of speech and oppose the oppression of Cuba,” said GOP Gov. Rick Scott. Crist, he added, will “be standing with Castro.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential GOP presidential candidate whose parents left Cuba in the 1950s, said the embargo is “the last tool we have remaining to ensure that democracy returns to Cuba one day.”

Lifting the embargo, he said, would “further entrench the regime in power by giving them more money to carry out their violent repression of people’s fundamental rights and dignity.”

Nationwide, the share of Cuban registered voters who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party has doubled in the past decade, from 22 percent to 44 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Less than half of Cuban voters now affiliate with the Republican Party, down from 64 percent over the same time period.

President Barack Obama won Florida twice, campaigning on easing travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans who want to visit their families on the island and allowing them to send more money to their relatives. In 2012, he captured nearly half the Cuban-American vote, a record for a Democrat.

The shift is driven in part by changing demographics.

Cuban-Americans, once the dominant bloc of Florida’s Hispanic vote, have seen their political clout diminished by a huge influx of Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and people from Central and South America, who lean Democratic. In the 2012 election, 42 percent of Hispanic voters in the state were Cuban, an 11 percentage point drop from 2000, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

The exiles who arrived in the decade and a half following Cuba’s 1959 revolution have been dying off while their children and fresh waves of immigrants hold a different view of Cuba. More than one-third of the Cubans residing in Miami-Dade County arrived after 1995, with many supporting travel and trade policies that strengthen ties between the U.S. and Cuba, said Guillermo Grenier, a lead researcher for the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

Even some of South Florida’s most prominent Cuban-American business leaders, long among the most strident defenders of the embargo, are publicly talking about investing in Cuba.

“The politics are way behind public opinion on this one,” said Steve Schale, a Democratic consultant and Crist adviser who managed Obama’s Florida campaign in 2008.

Overall, polls of the community have confirmed a tilt toward engagement, with the most recent survey by Florida International University finding Cuban-Americans in Miami split over the embargo, which was a near record, and 71 percent saying it had not worked either very well or at all.

“The embargo! It’s so screwed up!” said Caridad Novo, as she sipped espresso at a cafe in Doral, a Miami suburb.

The 52-year-old Cuban, who came to Florida during the 1980 Mariel boat crisis, said U.S. trade restrictions drive up the cost of sending goods to her family in Cuba. Shipping a 4-pound can of milk to her 3-year-old grandson in Havana costs $55, she said.

But some scholars and political operatives say Crist risks energizing Republicans in the conservative exile community while attracting little support from younger Cuban-Americans and newer arrivals, who tend to be less politically active.

The recent Florida International University poll found that less than one-third of those who have arrived since 1995 are U.S. citizens. Voter registration rates among newer arrivals lag their older counterparts by double digits.

“What is changing is opinions” on the embargo, Grenier said. “But for the opinions to become relevant to policymakers, they have to translate into more than just opinions. They have to be votes.”

Clinton says she urged end to Cuba embargo

In her new book, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says she pushed President Barack Obama to lift or ease the decades-long U.S. embargo on Cuba because it was no longer useful to American interests or promoting change on the communist island.

In excerpts of the book “Hard Choices” obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its release today, Clinton writes that the embargo has given communist leaders Fidel and Raul Castro an excuse not to enact democratic reforms. And she says opposition from some in Congress to normalizing relations — “to keep Cuba in a deep freeze” — has hurt both the United States and the Cuban people. She says the 2009 arrest by Cuba of USAID contractor Alan Gross and Havana’s refusal to release him on humanitarian grounds is a “tragedy” for improving ties.

“Since 1960, the United States had maintained an embargo against the island in hopes of squeezing Castro from power, but it only succeeded in giving him a foil to blame for Cuba’s economic woes,” she writes. She says her husband, former President Bill Clinton, tried to improve relations with Cuba in the 1990s, but the Castro government did not respond to the easing in some sanctions. Nonetheless, Obama was determined to continue the effort, she writes.

She says that late in her term in office she urged Obama to reconsider the U.S. embargo. “It wasn’t achieving its goals,” she writes, “and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America. … I thought we should shift the onus onto the Castros to explain why they remained undemocratic and abusive.”

Clinton writes that in the face of “a stone wall” from the Castro regime, she and Obama decided to engage directly with the Cuban people.

“We believed that the best way to bring change to Cuba would be to expose its people to the values, information and material comforts of the outside world,” she says.

The steps that Obama took, including allowing more travel to the island and increasing the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send back to the island, have had a positive effect, she writes.

However, Clinton notes with disappointment that Cuba arrested and imprisoned Gross, a contractor working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, who the U.S. says was trying to help Cuba’s small Jewish community communicate with the rest of the world. Gross was convicted of trying to subvert the Cuban state and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Despite repeated appeals from the U.S., Gross remains in prison in Cuba.

In the book, Clinton says she spoke out frequently about Gross’ imprisonment and was disappointed that “the Castros created new problems by arresting” him.

She said Cuba has refused to consider Gross’ release until the U.S. frees all of the “Cuban Five” spies who have been imprisoned in the United States. The U.S. has rejected Cuba’s demands to link the cases.

Clinton said she suspected that some in Cuba are using the Gross case “as an opportunity to put the brakes on any possible rapprochement with the United States and the domestic reforms that would require.”

“If so,” she writes, “it is a double tragedy, consigning millions of Cubans to a kind of continued imprisonment as well.”

China jails man for 18 months for remembering Tiananmen Square

Amnesty International is calling on Chinese authorities to halt the persecution of people seeking to remember the victims of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

The international human rights group issued the statement in response to the sentencing of a man to 18 months in jail for a remembrance last year and in anticipation of demonstrations to come as the anniversary of the June 4 massacre approaches.

A court in Changshu, in eastern China, found Gu Yimin guilty of inciting state subversion after he tried to post images of the crackdown online and applied to stage a protest on the 24th anniversary last year, according to Amnesty.

“Gu Yimin should be released immediately and unconditionally. Nearly 25 years on from the Tiananmen Square crackdown the authorities continue to stop at nothing to bury the truth of 1989,” said Anu Kultalahti, China researcher at Amnesty International.

Hundreds if not thousands, of protestors were killed or injured during the military crackdown against student protestors in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989. 

“As the 25th anniversary approaches, this could well mark the start of the annual round-up of activists attempting to remember the tragic events of 1989. Rather than ratchet up such persecution the authorities should acknowledge what really happened and deliver justice for the victims,” said Kultalahti.

The 1989 crackdown remains an official taboo in China. Attempts to commemorate, discuss and demand justice for what happened are forcefully curbed, with no public discussion allowed.

Simple, complicated Pete Seeger changed American music

Pete Seeger was a complicated man with a simple message: Make the world better, and be kind while doing it.

To accomplish these goals, he harnessed hundreds of years of musical tradition into a single banjo and a single, unyielding human voice.

It is tempting, from the short-memory vantage point of today, to see only the white-haired grandfather, mellowed with age, already accustomed to (if slightly uncomfortable with) being treated as an American icon. But that would be unwise. The belly fire inside Seeger — the one that drove the musical movement that propelled him, and that he propelled — was that of a young rebel unsatisfied with anything but energetically chasing his dreams of a more just America.

Make no mistake: He was a pacifist through and through, but music was his weapon.

“My own biggest thing in life,” he said once, “was simply being a link in a chain.”

Seeger, who died on Jan. 27, was many things. Sometimes he lived in the country, sometimes he lived in town. He was equally at home on the range and in the union hall, on top of Old Smoky and in the apartments of Greenwich Village as a skinny teenager making music on World War II’s eve with men who would become legends and end up on postage stamps.

From the beginning, everything about Seeger’s background seemed to point him toward his destiny. He was descended from dissent, from Americans who challenged authority. That stayed with him until the end, whether the authority was the mass media, large corporations or the House Un-American Activities Committee and the blacklists of the 1950s. He waited, kept singing, and outlasted it.

He was the son of a folklorist who adored music and who surrounded him with song from his earliest years (and who was just as political, publicly opposing the U.S. entry into World War I). He started young on the ukelele, his gateway instrument to the banjo. Before he was 20, he was making music with Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Lead Belly and Burl Ives and absorbing each one’s traditions. They all came out later in his work with the Almanac Singers, the Weavers and, for six decades after that, on his own.

The country’s foremost master of “folk music” didn’t much like the term. Seeger thought it relatively useless and generic. “There are as many kinds of folk music in the world,” he’d say, “as there are folk.”

Like his friend Woody Guthrie, he was an interpreter of culture during eras where such skills are desperately needed but, for the most part, unrecognized. But while Guthrie grew up amid much of what he sang about, Seeger was pure East Coast — born in Manhattan, educated at Harvard until he decided it wasn’t a good idea.

His combination of background and motivations became the template for many of the performers who drove the “folk revival” of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s that brought traditional American music into the center stage of the rock and pop revolution. It helped produce, in its wake, everyone from Doc Watson to Dylan, from the Animals to Eric Clapton.

Urban northeasterners like Seeger, John Cohen and Ralph Rinzler — and, eventually, others such as Minnesotan Robert Zimmerman — embarked on spelunking missions into the musical past, drawing on the field work of nomadic researchers John and Alan Lomax, Carl Sandburg and Cecil Sharp to inhale the vapors of the American songbook and exhale them in entirely new forms. Some, like Seeger, hewed closer to the original traditions. Others, like Zimmerman, who had renamed himself Bob Dylan, went farther afield and created entirely new musical forms.

They shared one key trait. What emerged in the 1960s, through both American and British musicians, was a tapestry of reinterpreted traditions that reached back into America of the 1800s and 1700s, and Britain, Scotland, Ireland and West Africa before that. Even today, the reverberations of what Seeger and a handful of others began still echo in our perpetual hit factory that forever produces new takes on the oldest of riffs.

“Lawyers rearrange old laws to fit new circumstances, chefs rearrange old recipes to fit new stomachs. It is the same way with music,” Seeger said.

Ours is a personality-driven nation, and we sometimes attribute too much influence to one person. In Seeger’s case, though, there is truth in that instinct. So much coalesced around him, perhaps because he, in many ways, contained so many American contradictions. He was a patrician-born populist, a troublemaker who understood the establishment, a rural urbanite, at times both a communist and a patriot in an age when many thought those to be mutually exclusive.

Robert Cantwell, in “When We Were Good,” a history of the folk revival, described Seeger as “a system of paradoxes” _ “hermetically private and gregariously public, a solitary wanderer and at the same time an entire movement, a richly heterogeneous cultural symbol. And this was his power: the power to arouse the need to speak.”

Speak he did. Most every major thread of American history in the past century passed through the human lightning rod that was Pete Seeger. He was a prominent voice on race, on poverty, on war and peace. He weighed in on the environment on behalf of his beloved Hudson River. In the 1950s, he stood firm against the anti-communist witch hunts that scuttled the career of many a performer, and suffered for it.

What happened after the folk revival is just as interesting. Songs dreamed up or adapted by Seeger, who channeled them in very political ways, over time became American standards — everything from “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” to “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” to “We Shall Overcome.” If the measure of activism’s success is that its message gets incorporated into the larger narrative, then Seeger accomplished what he set out to do, even if the post-Occupy Wall Street world he left behind was not precisely the one he envisioned.

In 2006, Seeger got as good as he gave when his reinterpretations of the American songbook were reinterpreted by Bruce Springsteen in a raucous, joyful CD called “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.” The album was the latest development in Seeger’s life of being a link in a chain, connecting songs that were sung on the Erie Canal in the 1800s with satellite radio, iTunes and Spotify. Yet somehow, the sheer Seegerness of it all _ the unplugged sensibility of a man who lived long enough to see his entire world plugged in _ poked through.

Now, with Seeger gone, the simple message that the complicated man carried remains just as important in a connected, wired, globalized world as it was in the patchwork of villages and farms and hollows about which he so often sang. “The human race,” he said, “is going to realize it’s going to have to start treating each other decently.” If they haven’t chosen an epitaph for Pete Seeger yet, that one might be worth considering.

Editor’s note Ted Anthony, who interviewed Pete Seeger extensively for his 2007 book “Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song,” writes about American culture for The Associated Press.