Presidents Obama and Castro Speak and Meet at United Nations

Over the last week Cuban President Raúl Castro has made two speeches at the United Nations in New York City as has U.S. President Barack Obama. Afterwards the two of them with advisors held a private meeting at the U.N. with subsequent comments by their spokesmen. Here is a chronological account of these events.

President Castro’s September 26th Speech[1]


On September 26, President Raúl Castro 11131154waddressed the U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development, as shown in the photograph to the right. In his remarks he said, ”The reestablishment of diplomatic relations Between Cuba and the United States of America, the opening of embassies and the policy changes announced by President Barack Obama . . . constitute a major progress, which has elicited the broadest support of the international community.”

However, he added, “the economic, commercial and financial blockade [by the U.S.] against Cuba persists bringing damages and hardships on the Cuban people, and standing as the main obstacle to our country’s economic development, while affecting other nations due to its extraterritorial scope and hurting the interests of American citizens and companies. Such policy is rejected by 188 United Nations member states that demand its removal.”

More generally Castro condemned “the pervasive underdevelopment afflicting two-thirds of the world population” and the widening “gap between the North and the South” and “wealth polarization.”

Thus, he argued, “If we wish to make this a habitable world with peace and harmony among nations, with democracy and social justice, dignity and respect for the human rights of every person, we should adopt as soon as possible concrete commitments in terms of development assistance, and resolve the debt issue.” Such a commitment, he said, would require “a new international financial architecture, removal of the monopoly on technology and knowledge and changing the present international economic order.”

Nevertheless, according to President Castro, Cuba will continue to help other developing nations despite its limited capabilities and “shall never renounce its honor, human solidarity and social justice” that “are deeply rooted in our socialist society.”

President Obama’s September 27th Speech[2]


On September 27, President Obama addressed the same U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development without touching on U.S.-Cuba relations. Instead he concentrated on the purpose of the Summit– sustainable development. (His photograph is to the left.)

He started by rejecting the notion that “our efforts to combat poverty and disease do not and cannot work, that there are some places beyond hope, that certain people and regions are condemned to an endless cycle of suffering.” Instead, he asserted, “the global hunger rate has already been slashed.  Tens of millions of more boys and girls are today in school.  Prevention and treatment of measles and malaria and tuberculosis have saved nearly 60 million lives.  HIV/AIDS infections and deaths have plummeted.  And more than one billion people have lifted themselves up from extreme poverty — one billion.”

Nevertheless, much remains to be done, according to Obama, and the nations at this Summit “commit ourselves to new Sustainable Development Goals, including our goal of ending extreme poverty in our world.  We do so understanding how difficult the task may be.  We suffer no illusions of the challenges ahead.  But we understand this is something that we must commit ourselves to.  Because in doing so, we recognize that our most basic bond — our common humanity — compels us to act.”

In this work, President Obama stated, the U.S. “will continue to be your partner.  Five years ago, I pledged here that America would remain the global leader in development, and the United States government, in fact, remains the single largest donor of development assistance, including in global health.  In times of crisis — from Ebola to Syria — we are the largest provider of humanitarian aid.  In times of disaster and crisis, the world can count on the friendship and generosity of the American people.”

Therefore, Obama said, he was “committing the United States to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals” and to “keep fighting for the education and housing and health care and jobs that reduce inequality and create opportunity here in the United States and around the world.” This effort will include other “governments, more institutions, more businesses, more philanthropies, more NGOs, more faith communities, more citizens.” Moreover, the “next chapter of development must also unleash economic growth — not just for a few at the top, but inclusive, sustainable growth that lifts up the fortunes of the many.”

President Obama concluded by noting these obstacles to achieving these goals: bad governance; corruption; inequality; “old attitudes, especially those that deny rights and opportunity to women;” failure to “recognize the incredible dynamism and opportunity of today’s Africa;” war; and climate change

President Obama’s September 28th Speech[3]

 In a wide-ranging speech on international affairs, President Obama commented on U.S. relations with Cuba. He said, “I also believe that to move forward in this new era, we have to be strong enough to acknowledge when what you’re doing is not working. For 50 years, the United States pursued a Cuba policy that failed to improve the lives of the Cuban people. We changed that. We continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We will continue to stand up for human rights. But we address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties. As these contacts yield progress, I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore. Change won’t come overnight to Cuba, but I’m confident that openness, not coercion, will support the reforms and better the life the Cuban people deserve, just as I believe that Cuba will find its success if it pursues cooperation with other nations.”

Later in the speech, Obama added these words: “Think of the Americans who lowered the flag over our embassy in Havana in 1961 — the year I was born — and returned this summer to raise that flag back up. (Applause.) One of these men said of the Cuban people, “We could do things for them, and they could do things for us. We loved them.” For 50 years, we ignored that fact.

These comments were in the context of the following more general discussion of international affairs by President Obama: “We, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion. We cannot look backwards. We live in an integrated world — one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success. We cannot turn those forces of integration. No nation in this Assembly can insulate itself from the threat of terrorism, or the risk of financial contagion; the flow of migrants, or the danger of a warming planet. The disorder we see is not driven solely by competition between nations or any single ideology. And if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences.”

“No matter how powerful our military, how strong our economy, we understand the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone.” So too, in words that could be aimed at Cuba and others, “repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed. The history of the last two decades proves that in today’s world, dictatorships are unstable. The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow. You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas. You can try to control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth. It is not a conspiracy of U.S.-backed NGOs that expose corruption and raise the expectations of people around the globe; it’s technology, social media, and the irreducible desire of people everywhere to make their own choices about how they are governed.”

In a similar vein, Obama said, “The strength of nations depends on the success of their people — their knowledge, their innovation, their imagination, their creativity, their drive, their opportunity — and that, in turn, depends upon individual rights and good governance and personal security.”

Finally, according to Obama, we must “defend the democratic principles that allow societies to succeed” with a recognition that “democracy is going to take different forms in different parts of the world. The very idea of a people governing themselves depends upon government giving expression to their unique culture, their unique history, their unique experiences. But some universal truths are self-evident. No person wants to be imprisoned for peaceful worship. No woman should ever be abused with impunity, or a girl barred from going to school. The freedom to peacefully petition those in power without fear of arbitrary laws — these are not ideas of one country or one culture. They are fundamental to human progress.”

“A government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength; it is showing weakness and it is showing fear. History shows that regimes who fear their own people will eventually crumble, but strong institutions built on the consent of the governed endure long after any one individual is gone.”

“That’s why our strongest leaders — from George Washington to Nelson Mandela — have elevated the importance of building strong, democratic institutions over a thirst for perpetual power. Leaders who amend constitutions to stay in office only acknowledge that they failed to build a successful country for their people — because none of us last forever. It tells us that power is something they cling to for its own sake, rather than for the betterment of those they purport to serve.”

“Democracy — inclusive democracy — makes countries stronger. When opposition parties can seek power peacefully through the ballot, a country draws upon new ideas. When a free media can inform the public, corruption and abuse are exposed and can be rooted out. When civil society thrives, communities can solve problems that governments cannot necessarily solve alone. When immigrants are welcomed, countries are more productive and more vibrant. When girls can go to school, and get a job, and pursue unlimited opportunity, that’s when a country realizes its full potential.”

President Castro’s September 28th Speech[4]

On September 28, Cuban President Raúl Castro in his address to the U.N. General Assembly essentially reiterated his comments of two days earlier about U.S.-Cuba relations with these words: ‘After 56 years, during which the Cuban people put up a heroic and selfless resistance, diplomatic relations have been reestablished between Cuba and the United States of America.”

“Now, a long and complex process begins toward normalization that will only be achieved with the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade; the return to our country of the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base; the suspension of radio and TV broadcasts, and subversion and destabilization attempts against the Island; and, when our people are compensated for the human and economic damages they continue to endure.”

“As long as the blockade remains in force, we will continue to introduce the Draft Resolution entitled ‘Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Embargo imposed by the United States of America on Cuba.’ To the 188 governments and peoples who have backed our just demand, here, and in other international and regional forums, I reaffirm the eternal gratitude of the Cuban people and government for your continued support.” [5]

The rest of this Castro speech argued that the U.N. has failed in its 70 years of existence to fulfill the lofty purposes of its Charter. The speech also noted Cuba’s solidarity with its Caribbean brothers, African countries, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Republic of Ecuador, the people of Puerto Rico, the Republic of Argentina, the Brazilian people and President Dilma Rouseff, the Syrian people and the Palestinian people. Castro also supported the nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On the other hand, Castro reaffirmed Cuba’s “rejection of the intention to expand the presence of NATO up to the Russian borders, as well as of the unilateral and unfair sanctions imposed on that nation” and Cuba’s condemnation of NATO and European countries’ efforts to destabilize countries of the Middle East and Africa that have led to the recent migrant crisis in Europe.

In conclusion, Castro said, “the international community can always count on Cuba to lift its sincere voice against injustice, inequality, underdevelopment, discrimination and manipulation; and for the establishment of a more equitable and fair international order, truly focused on human beings, their dignity and well-being.”

The Presidents’ Meeting[6]

Obama &Castro

The two presidents with their advisors held a 30-minute private meeting at the U.N. on Tuesday, September 29. The photograph at the left shows them shaking hands.

The U.S. delegation consisted of Secretary of State, John Kerry; National Security Adviser, Susan Rice; National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Mark Feierstein; and the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N., Samantha Power.

Cuba’s delegation was composed of the Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez; Consultant, Alejandro Castro Espin (the son of President Raúl Castro); Vice President of Cuba’s Defense and Security Committee, Juan Francisco Arias Fernández; Cuba’s Director General of U.S. Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Josefina Vidal; and Cuba’s Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas.

White House’s Comments on the Meeting[7]

On a September 29 flight from New York City to Washington, D.C., White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, in response to a journalist’s question, said, “I know that the two leaders had an opportunity to discuss some of the regulatory changes that have been announced in the last couple of weeks on the part of the [U.S.]. The State Department is leading civil aviation coordination talks in Cuba right now.  And these are all additional steps that are moving toward more normal relations between our two countries.”

“The President, as he always does, . . . reaffirmed our commitment to seeing the Cuban government do a better job of not just respecting, but actually proactively protecting, the basic human rights of the Cuban people.”

We “continue to believe that deeper engagement and deeper people-to-people ties, deeper economic engagement between the [U.S.] and Cuba will have the effect of moving the government and the nation in a positive direction.”

Thereafter the White House released the following written statement about the meeting: “President Obama met today with President Raul Castro of Cuba to discuss recent advances in relations between the United States and Cuba, as well as additional steps each government can take to deepen bilateral cooperation. The two Presidents discussed the recent successful visit of Pope Francis to both countries.  President Obama highlighted U.S. regulatory changes that will allow more Americans to travel to and do business with Cuba, while helping to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  The President welcomed the progress made in establishing diplomatic relations, and underscored that continued reforms in Cuba would increase the impact of U.S. regulatory changes.  The President also highlighted steps the United States intends to take to improve ties between the American and Cuban peoples, and reiterated our support for human rights in Cuba.”

Cuban Foreign Minister’s Press Conference[8]

Soon after the presidential meeting, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez held a press conference at the U.N. In his opening statement, he said that in a “respectful and constructive” atmosphere, the two presidents exchanged their views on the recent visit of Pope Francisco to Cuba and the United States, as well as issues on the bilateral agenda established between the two countries.

“The presidents agreed on the need to continue working on the set bilateral agenda, which includes areas of mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation and in third countries such as Haiti, the development of dialogue on issues of bilateral and multilateral interest and resolving outstanding issues between two states.”

President Castro affirmed Cuba’s desire to build a new relationship with the U.S. based on respect and sovereign equality, but reiterated that to have normal relations the U.S. had to lift the blockade, which is causing damage and hardship to the Cuban people and affects the interests of American citizens.

Castro also confirmed that Cuba on October 27 would introduce in the General Assembly a resolution condemning the embargo (blockade). Said the foreign Minister, the blockade is “a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights of all Cubans and harms all Cuban families, even Cubans living outside Cuba.” Cuba fully expects this year’s resolution to once again have overwhelming support.

The Foreign Minister said the return of the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba is a high priority element in the process of normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, as a vindication of Cuban people.

At another point he added that “we are very proud of the accomplishments of Cuba on human rights and that human rights are universal, not subject to political selectivity or manipulation of any kind. ” Cuba guarantees the full exercise of political rights and civil liberties, and economic, social and cultural rights. We have many concerns with the situation on human rights in the world, particularly in the U.S. and Western Europe, as illustrated by the current immigration refugee crisis. The pattern of racial discrimination and police brutality against African Americans in the [U.S.] is really serious.


Cuba reiterated its insistence on ending the U.S. embargo as an essential condition for normalization of relations, an objective shared by President Obama and this blog. [9] We now await the U.N. General Assembly’s debate and anticipated approval on October 27 of another resolution condemning the embargo and whether the U.S. will, for the first time, abstain on the vote.

Cuba continues to assert that the U.S. lease of Guantanamo Bay is illegal, but its saying so does not make it so. Previous blog posts have discussed this contention and do not find it persuasive and, therefore, suggested the two countries submit the dispute for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands.[10]

The same means has been suggested in this blog for resolving the disputes about whether or not Cuba has been damaged by the embargo (blockade) and the amount of such alleged damages as well as the amount of damages to U.S. interests by Cuba’s expropriation of property in the early years of the Cuban Revolution.


[1] Cuba Ministry Foreign Affairs, Raul Castro: Unacceptable levels of poverty and social inequality persist and even aggravate across the world (Sept. 26, 2015); Reuters, Cuba’s Castro Slams U.S. Trade Embargo at United Nations, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2015); Reuters, U.S. Embargo ‘Main Obstacle’ to Cuba’s Development: Castro, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2015) (video)

[2] White House, Remarks by President on Sustainable Development Goals (Sept. 27, 2015).

[3] Reuters, Quotes from President Obama’s U.N. Speech, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015); President Obama’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly 2015, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015); White House, Remarks by President Obama to the United Nations General Assembly (Sept. 28, 2015).

[4] Raúl at the United Nations: The International community can always count on Cuba’s voice in the face of injustice, Granma (Sept. 28, 2015); Full text [of Castro’s speech], Granma (Sept. 28, 2015); Reuters, At U.N., Castro Says U.S. Must End Embargo to Have Normal Cuba Ties, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015); Assoc. Press, Raúl Castro Addresses General Assembly, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015) (video); Goldman, At the U.N., Raúl Castro of Cuba Calls for End to U.S. Embargo, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2015).

[5] A prior post reviewed last year’s General Assembly’s condemnation of the embargo.

[6] Assoc. Press, U.S., Cuba Leaders Meet for 2nd Time in This Year, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2015); Reuters, Obama, Castro Meet as They Work on Thawing U.S.-Cuba Ties, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2015); Cuba and U.S. Presidents meet, Granma (Sept. 30, 2015)

[7] White House, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route Washington, D.C., 9/29/15; White House, Readout of the President’s Meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro (Sept. 29, 2015).

[8] Reuters, Cuban Minister on Obama-Castro Meeting, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2015) (video); Bruno Rodriguez: The blockade is a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights, Granma (Sept. 30, 2015).

[9] This blog has discussed the initial bills to end the embargo in the House and Senate as well as later bills to do the same in the Senate and House.

[10] Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 4, 2015); Resolution of Issues Regarding U.S.-Lease of Guantanamo Bay (April 6, 2015); Does Cuba Have a Right to Terminate the U.S. Lease of Guantanamo Bay? (April 26, 2015).

The Second Day of Pope Francis’ Mission to the American People

On Wednesday, September 23, Pope Francis was in Washington, D.C. He first went to the White House to be welcomed to the U.S., held a midday prayer service with the Roman Catholic Bishops of the U.S. and conducted the Junipero Serro canonization mass. After the mass, Francis made an unscheduled stop at the Little Sisters of the Poor residence.

White House Welcoming Ceremony[1]

White HOuse

About 15,000 people were gathered on the south lawn of the White House for the welcoming of Pope Francis to the United States preceded by historic American music. To the left is a photograph of the Pope and President Obama before they made their remarks.

 President Obama’s Welcoming Remarks. “[O]n behalf of the American people, it is my great honor and privilege to welcome you to the United States of America.”

“Holy Father, your visit not only allows us, in some small way, to reciprocate the extraordinary hospitality that you extended to me at the Vatican last year.  It also reveals how much all Americans, from every background and every faith, value the role that the Catholic Church plays in strengthening America.   From my time working in impoverished neighborhoods with the Catholic Church in Chicago, to my travels as President, I’ve seen firsthand how, every single day, Catholic communities, priests, nuns, laity are feeding the hungry, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, educating our children, and fortifying the faith that sustains so many.”

“And what is true in America is true around the world.  From the busy streets of Buenos Aires to the remote villages in Kenya, Catholic organizations serve the poor, minister to prisoners, build schools, build homes, operate orphanages and hospitals.  And just as the Church has stood with those struggling to break the chains of poverty, the Church so often has given voice and hope to those seeking to break the chains of violence and oppression.”

“And yet, I believe the excitement around your visit, Holy Father, must be attributed not only to your role as Pope, but to your unique qualities as a person. In your humility, your embrace of simplicity, in the gentleness of your words and the generosity of your spirit, we see a living example of Jesus’ teachings, a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds.”

“You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the ‘least of these’ at the center of our concerns.  You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and our measure as a society, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized, to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity –- because we are all made in the image of God.”

“You remind us that ‘the Lord’s most powerful message’ is mercy.  And that means welcoming the stranger with empathy and a truly open heart, from the refugee who flees war-torn lands to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life. It means showing compassion and love for the marginalized and the outcast, to those who have suffered, and those who have caused suffering and seek redemption.  You remind us of the costs of war, particularly on the powerless and defenseless, and urge us toward the imperative of peace.”

“Holy Father, we are grateful for your invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people which holds out the promise of better relations between our countries, greater cooperation across our hemisphere, and a better life for the Cuban people.  We thank you for your passionate voice against the deadly conflicts that ravage the lives of so many men, women and children, and your call for nations to resist the sirens of war and resolve disputes through diplomacy.”

“You remind us that people are only truly free when they can practice their faith freely. Here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty.  It was the basis for so much of what brought us together.  And here in the United States, we cherish our religious liberty, but around the world, at this very moment, children of God, including Christians, are targeted and even killed because of their faith.  Believers are prevented from gathering at their places of worship.  The faithful are imprisoned, and churches are destroyed.  So we stand with you in defense of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, knowing that people everywhere must be able to live out their faith free from fear and free from intimidation.”

“And, Holy Father, you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet, God’s magnificent gift to us. We support your call to all world leaders to support the communities most vulnerable to changing climate, and to come together to preserve our precious world for future generations.”

“Your Holiness, in your words and deeds, you set a profound moral example.  And in these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another, you are shaking us out of complacency.  All of us may, at times, experience discomfort when we contemplate the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true, what we know to be right.  But I believe such discomfort is a blessing, for it points to something better.  You shake our conscience from slumber; you call on us to rejoice in Good News, and give us confidence that we can come together in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just, and more free.  Here at home and around the world, may our generation heed your call to “never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope.”

“For that great gift of hope, Holy Father, we thank you, and welcome you, with joy and gratitude, to the United States of America.”

Pope Francis’ Response. “I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans. As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families. I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue, in which I hope to listen to, and share, many of the hopes and dreams of the American people.”

“During my visit I will have the honor of addressing Congress, where I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles. I will also travel to Philadelphia for the Eighth World Meeting of Families, to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family at this, a critical moment in the history of our civilization.”

“Mr. President, together with their fellow citizens, American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”

“Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem that can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our ‘common home,’ we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about ‘a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change’ (Laudato Si’, 13). Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.”

“We know by faith that “the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our ‘common home’ (Laudato Si’, 13). As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home. The efforts that were recently made to mend broken relationships and to open new doors to cooperation within our human family represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom. I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children.”

“Mr. President, once again I thank you for your welcome, and I look forward to these days in your country. God bless America!”

The Pope and President Obama with an interpreter then held a private meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, the details of which were not publicly released. Afterwards the Pope in the popemobile then waved at the crowds of people attending the Papal Parade around the Ellipse and the National Mall.

Prayer Service with U.S. Bishops

At St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Pope Francis participated in a prayer service with U.S. bishops of the Roman Catholic Church and made the following lengthy remarks (in English translation).

“As I look out with affection at you, their pastors, I would like to embrace all the local Churches over which you exercise loving responsibility. I would ask you to share my affection and spiritual closeness with the People of God throughout this vast land.”

“The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: ‘He is the Savior’ ! From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: ‘Come, Lord!’”

“Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God… know that the Pope is at your side and supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.”

“My first word to you is one of thanksgiving to God for the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in these lands and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world. I thank you most heartily for your generous solidarity with the Apostolic See and the support you give to the spread of the Gospel in many suffering areas of our world. I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit. I am well aware of the immense efforts you have made to welcome and integrate those immigrants who continue to look to America, like so many others before them, in the hope of enjoying its blessings of freedom and prosperity. I also appreciate the efforts that you are making to fulfill the Church’s mission of education in schools at every level and in the charitable services offered by your numerous institutions. These works are often carried out without appreciation or support, often with heroic sacrifice, out of obedience to a divine mandate that we may not disobey.”

“I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.”

“I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ. Reading over your names, looking at your faces, knowing the extent of your churchmanship and conscious of the devotion which you have always shown for the Successor of Peter, I must tell you that I do not feel a stranger in your midst. I am a native of a land that is also vast, with great open ranges, a land which, like your own, received the faith from itinerant missionaries. I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey. Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work. What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers. As one of your poets has put it, ‘strong and tireless wings’ combined with the wisdom of one who knows the mountains.’”

“I do not speak to you with my voice alone, but in continuity with the words of my predecessors. From the birth of this nation, when, following the American Revolution, the first diocese was erected in Baltimore, the Church of Rome has always been close to you; you have never lacked its constant assistance and encouragement. In recent decades, three Popes have visited you and left behind a remarkable legacy of teaching.”

“Their words remain timely and have helped to inspire the long-term goals that you have set for the Church in this country.”

“It is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy. I have not come to judge you or to lecture you. I trust completely in the voice of the One who ‘teaches all things’ (Jn 14:26). Allow me only, in the freedom of love, to speak to you as a brother among brothers. I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us. Instead, I would turn once again to the demanding task – ancient yet never new – of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work. Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would share with you some reflections that I consider helpful for our mission.”

“We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it. The evil one roars like a lion, anxious to devour it, wearing us down in our resolve to be all that we are called to be, not for ourselves but in gift and service to the ‘Shepherd of our souls’ (1 Pet 2:25).”

“The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care (Jn 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31).”

“Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter his gaze and sense that he is asking us the question: ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ (Mk 3:31-34). One in which we can calmly reply: ‘Lord, here is your mother, here are your brothers! I hand them over to you; they are the ones whom you entrusted to me.’ Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor.”

“It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The ‘style’ of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant ‘for us.’”

“May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that ‘taste of eternity’ which they seek in vain in the things of this world. May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds. At the same time, may you never lack the serene courage to proclaim that ‘we must work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life’ (Jn 6:27).”

“Shepherds who do not pasture themselves but are able to step back, away from the center, to ‘decrease,’ in order to feed God’s family with Christ. Who keep constant watch, standing on the heights to look out with God’s eyes on the flock that is his alone. Who ascend to the height of the cross of God’s Son, the sole standpoint that opens to the shepherd the heart of his flock.”

“Shepherds who do not lower our gaze, concerned only with our concerns, but raise it constantly toward the horizons which God opens before us and which surpass all that we ourselves can foresee or plan. Who also watch over ourselves, so as to flee the temptation of narcissism, which blinds the eyes of the shepherd, makes his voice unrecognizable and his actions fruitless. In the countless paths that lie open to your pastoral concern, remember to keep focused on the core which unifies everything: ‘You did it unto me’ (Mt 25:31-45).”

“Certainly it is helpful for a bishop to have the farsightedness of a leader and the shrewdness of an administrator, but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us. Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world. Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed (Phil 2:1-11).”

“We all know the anguish felt by the first Eleven, huddled together, assailed and overwhelmed by the fear of sheep scattered because the shepherd had been struck. But we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity. So we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear.”

“I know that you face many challenges, that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition.”

“And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response.”

“Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).”

“The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage that you are called to share with candor, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that ‘exodus’ which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”

“We need to let the Lord’s words echo constantly in our hearts: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, who am meek and humble of heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls’ (Mt 11:28-30). Jesus’ yoke is a yoke of love and thus a pledge of refreshment. At times in our work we can be burdened by a sense of loneliness, and so feel the heaviness of the yoke that we forget that we have received it from the Lord. It seems to be ours alone, and so we drag it like weary oxen working a dry field, troubled by the thought that we are laboring in vain. We can forget the profound refreshment that is indissolubly linked to the One who has made us the promise.”

“We need to learn from Jesus, or better to learn Jesus, meek and humble; to enter into his meekness and his humility by contemplating his way of acting; to lead our Churches and our people – not infrequently burdened by the stress of everyday life – to the ease of the Lord’s yoke. And to remember that Jesus’ Church is kept whole not by ‘consuming fire from heaven’ (Lk 9:54), but by the secret warmth of the Spirit, who ‘heals what is wounded, bends what is rigid, straightens what is crooked.’”

“The great mission that the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially. The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere. Consequently, the Church, ‘the seamless garment of the Lord’ cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over.”

“Our mission as bishops is first and foremost to solidify unity, a unity whose content is defined by the Word of God and the one Bread of Heaven. With these two realities each of the Churches entrusted to us remains Catholic, because open to, and in communion with, all the particular Churches and with the Church of Rome which ‘presides in charity.’ It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations.”

“May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God’s heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like ‘a city built on a hill’ (Mt 5:14).”

‘This service to unity is particularly important for this nation, whose vast material and spiritual, cultural and political, historical and human, scientific and technological resources impose significant moral responsibilities in a world which is seeking, confusedly and laboriously, new balances of peace, prosperity and integration. It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion. May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the ‘sacrament of unity’ (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion.”

“This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves. I encourage you, then, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges.”

“The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.”

“These essential aspects of the Church’s mission belong to the core of what we have received from the Lord. It is our duty to preserve and communicate them, even when the tenor of the times becomes resistant and even hostile to that message (Evangelii Gaudium, 34-39). I urge you to offer this witness, with the means and creativity born of love, and with the humility of truth. It needs to be preached and proclaimed to those without, but also to find room in people’s hearts and in the conscience of society.”

“To this end, it is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love. As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.”

“Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: ‘Have you something to eat?’ We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).”

“Before concluding these reflections, allow me to offer two recommendations which are close to my heart. The first refers to your fatherhood as bishops. Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants. Let this closeness be expressed in a special way towards your priests. Support them, so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart, for this alone can bring fulfillment to ministers of Christ. I urge you, then, not to let them be content with half-measures. Find ways to encourage their spiritual growth, lest they yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats, but instead reflect the motherhood of the Church, which gives birth to and raises her sons and daughters. Be vigilant lest they tire of getting up to answer those who knock on their door by night, just when they feel entitled to rest (Lk 11:5-8). Train them to be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, ‘by chance’ find themselves stripped of all they thought they had (Lk 10:29-37).”

“My second recommendation has to do with immigrants. I ask you to excuse me if in some way I am pleading my own case. The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these ‘pilgrims.’ From the beginning you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper, and kept alive the flame of their faith. Even today, no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities. Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses. Not only as the Bishop of Rome, but also as a pastor from the South, I feel the need to thank and encourage you. Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church.”

 Junípero Serro Canonization Mass[2]

Mass 9.23

Pope Francis entered the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of the Catholic University of America to raucous cheers and applause from more than 2,000 men and women studying to become priests and nuns. Afterwards the Pope went outside the Cathedral for the open-air mass attended by the 25,000 people who had tickets, including Vice President Joe Biden and many Latinos. The photograph at the left shows the Pope at the mass. In his native Spanish (below in English translation), offered the following homily.

“Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice! These are striking words, words which impact our lives. Paul tells us to rejoice; he practically orders us to rejoice. This command resonates with the desire we all have for a fulfilling life, a meaningful life, a joyful life. It is as if Paul could hear what each one of us is thinking in his or her heart and to voice what we are feeling, what we are experiencing. Something deep within us invites us to rejoice and tells us not to settle for placebos which simply keep us comfortable.”

“At the same time, though, we all know the struggles of everyday life. So much seems to stand in the way of this invitation to rejoice. Our daily routine can often lead us to a kind of glum apathy which gradually becomes a habit, with a fatal consequence: our hearts grow numb.”

“We don’t want apathy to guide our lives… or do we? We don’t want the force of habit to rule our life… or do we? So we ought to ask ourselves: What can we do to keep our heart from growing numb, becoming anesthetized? How do we make the joy of the Gospel increase and take deeper root in our lives?”

“Jesus gives the answer. He said to his disciples then and he says it to us now: Go forth! Proclaim! The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.”

“The spirit of the world tells us to be like everyone else, to settle for what comes easy. Faced with this human way of thinking, ‘we must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the world’ (Laudato Si’, 229). It is the responsibility to proclaim the message of Jesus. For the source of our joy is ‘an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of our own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 24). Go out to all, proclaim by anointing and anoint by proclaiming. This is what the Lord tells us today. He tells us: A Christian finds joy in mission: Go out to people of every nation!”

“A Christian experiences joy in following a command: Go forth and proclaim the good news! A Christian finds ever-new joy in answering a call: Go forth and anoint!”

“Jesus sends his disciples out to all nations. To every people. We too were part of all those people of two thousand years ago. Jesus did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message, his presence. Instead, he always embraced life as he saw it. In faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin. In faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity. Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it. It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken. Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone. Go out and in my name embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be. Go out to the highways and byways, go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father. Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation. Go out to proclaim the good news that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person’s life. Go out with the ointment which soothes wounds and heals hearts.”

“Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.”

“The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.”

“So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). The People of God can embrace everyone because we are the disciples of the One who knelt before his own to wash their feet (ibid., 24).”

“The reason we are here today is that many other people wanted to respond to that call. They believed that ‘life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort’ (Aparecida Document, 360). We are heirs to the bold missionary spirit of so many men and women who preferred not to be ‘shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security… within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). We are indebted to a tradition, a chain of witnesses who have made it possible for the good news of the Gospel to be, in every generation, both ‘good’ and ‘news’”.

“Today we remember one of those witnesses who testified to the joy of the Gospel in these lands, Father Junípero Serra. He was the embodiment of ‘a Church which goes forth,’ a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God. Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life. He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life. He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters. Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it. Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people.”

“Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, a saying he lived his life by: siempre adelante! Keep moving forward! For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anesthetized. He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept going forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!”

Little Sisters of the Poor[3]

Pope Francis & Sisters of the Poor
Pope Francis & Sisters of the Poor

After the canonization mass, Pope Francis made an unscheduled 15-minute stop on Wednesday at a Washington residence operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor. There he met with about 45 sisters and said that their “mission to the elderly” was” important it is in a society that tends to marginalize the elderly and the poor.”

Later Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told journalists that the papal visit was intended as a sign of support for the Little Sisters’ lawsuit against the Obama administration’s mandate that all employers offer contraceptive coverage in their health plans or participate in a religious “accommodation” that the sisters have refused.


[1] White House, Remarks by President Obama and His Holiness Pope Francis at Arrival Ceremony (Sept. 23, 2015); Read Pope Francis’ Speeches to the White House, the Bishops and Congress, Word on Fire Blog (Sept, 25, 2015); Reuters, On White House Lawn, Pope Urges U.S. Action on Climate Change, N.Y. Times (Sept. 23, 2015).

[2] Pope Francis’ Homily at the Canonization Mass for the Rev. Junípero Serra, N.Y. Times (Sept. 23, 2015); Santos, Pilgrims Gather in Washington to See Pope Francis Canonize Junípero Serra, N.Y. Times (Sept. 23, 2015); Assoc. Press, Pope Canonizes 18th-Century Missionary; Not Everyone Happy, N.Y. Times (Sept. 23, 2015).

[3] Hadro, Pope Francis made surprise stop at Little Sisters of the Poor to show support, Cath. News Agency (Sept. 23, 2015).

Comments About Cuba by White House Press Secretary 

On the morning of July 20, 2015, Cuba officially opened its Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the United States did likewise in Havana although the ceremonial opening of the latter will be on August 14 when Secretary of State John Kerry goes to Havana to preside that event. Prior posts discussed the ceremonial opening of the Cuban Embassy and the joint press conference later that day at the U.S. Department of State by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. This post reviews the extensive July 20 comments about the U.S.-Cuba relationship by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.[1] A subsequent post will review the reactions to these events.

Emphasizing Secretary Kerry’s Comments

Josh Earnest
Josh Earnest

Earnest first underscored Secretary Kerry’s comments about the reopening of embassies by saying, “The [U.S.] welcomes today’s historic opening of the embassy of the [U.S.] in Havana, Cuba, and the opening of the Cuban embassy here in Washington, D.C.  Today’s openings are the result of respectful dialogue between the [U.S.] and the Republic of Cuba following the December 17th announcements by President Obama and President Raúl Castro to reestablish diplomatic relations between our two nations.”

“This is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past.  We look forward to working collaboratively to normalize relations with the Cuban government and the Cuban people after more than a half-century of discord.  Beginning today, U.S. diplomats in Havana will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island of Cuba, with the Cuban government, Cuban civil society, and even ordinary Cuban citizens.”

“We look forward to collaborating with the Cuban government on issues of common interest, including counterterrorism and disaster response, and we are confident that the best way to advance universal values like freedom of speech and assembly is through more engagement with the Cuban people.”

U.S. Ambassador to Cuba

The Press Secretary said he did “not have a specific commitment in terms of when [a nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Cuba] would be announced or who that person would be.  We certainly do believe that U.S. interests in Cuba would be best represented by somebody serving as the ambassador there.” Later in the conference, when pressed, he said despite anticipated resistance to the appointment of anyone to that position by some Senate Republicans, he expected such an a nomination to be made by the President.

The “current Chief of Mission is a gentleman named Jeffrey DeLaurentis.  He is somebody who had previously served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.  He is somebody who has done two previous stints at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and somebody who has served in a wide variety of diplomatic roles, including as the political counselor to the U.S. Mission at the United Nations in Geneva, a political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Bogota, even did a stint here at the White House at the National Security Council.

So this is somebody . . . with a wide range of experience in a variety of roles, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in the ability of Ambassador DeLaurentis to represent U.S. interests on the island in Cuba.  But I certainly wouldn’t rule out that the President would nominate somebody to serve at the rank of ambassador at the U.S. embassy in Cuba.”

DeLaurentis’ “top agenda item will be to represent the interests of the [U.S.] on the island.  In some cases, that is going to involve making sure that U.S. businesses and U.S. individuals that are engaged in commercial activity on the island of Cuba, that their interests are represented and protected on the island.  That’s certainly one reason that we’ve seen some bipartisan support in Congress for this policy change.”

“But obviously diplomats who are working at the new U.S. embassy in Cuba will also have the ability to more freely travel throughout Cuba and to interact and engage the Cuban people and, yes, even some members of the political opposition.  And we believe that that will better represent the interest of the [U.S.] on the island.”

Cuban Human Rights.

The change in U.S. policy regarding Cuba “is consistent with the national security interests of the [U.S. and] . . . with the kinds of values that this President and previous Presidents have aggressively advocated all around the world.  Those values are the respect for the basic human rights that we hold dear in this country — freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of the press.”

“It’s clear that Cuba has significant progress to make in all of those areas.  What’s also clear is that the previous [U.S.] . . . [did not] really make much progress [on these issues].  The President believed that a change was necessary.  And we’re hopeful that in the coming years we’ll start to see the kind of respect for basic human rights on the island of Cuba that the U.S.] has long advocated.”

[Moreover, an] overwhelming percentage of the Cuban people are supportive and optimistic about this change in policy because of a chance that is has to improve their prospects on the island nation of Cuba.”

“So the President is looking forward to these kinds of changes taking effect [so] that the Cuban people and the Cuban government start to enjoy the benefits and see the results from greater engagement with the [U.S.]”

“In the days after this agreement was announced back in December, a substantial number of individuals who had previously been held by the Cuban government for their political views were released.  And that’s an indication that the Cuban government is trying to at least change their reputation when it comes to these issues.“

“But we have got a long list of concerns.” In addition, “for a long time the U.S. policy of trying to isolate Cuba became a source of irritation in the relationship between the [U.S.] and other countries in the Western Hemisphere.  And by removing that source of irritation, the [U.S.] can now focus attention of . . . other countries in the Western Hemisphere on the Cuban government’s rather sordid human rights record.”

“And again, that is part of the strategy for seeking to engage the Cuban people more effectively, and bring about the kind of change that we would like to see inside of Cuba.”

U.S. Leverage To Effect Change in Cuba.

As a result of the change in U.S. policy regarding Cuba, the U.S. will “have the leverage of the other countries in the Western Hemisphere that now are no longer distracted by the U.S. embargo against Cuba. . . . In fact, . . . we’ve remove[d] that irritant and allowed the rest of the Western Hemisphere to focus more closely on the conduct and policies of the Cuban government. That certainly is a positive development.”

“[A]ny perceived leverage [for the U.S.] that was included in an embargo did not succeed in generating the kind of outcome that its most ardent advocates believe is important.  We didn’t see the kind of progress on human rights reforms that we would like to see while that embargo was in place.”

That is “why the President has called for the removal of the embargo and . . . to take steps to restore diplomatic ties between our two nations. [T]he policy of isolation . . . [has] failed and it was time to try a different approach to succeed in achieving the goal that we all share, which is a Cuba that thrives and a Cuban government that respects and even protects the basic human rights of their citizens.”

“[P]art of this agreement included ensuring that Cuban citizens have greater access to the Internet and greater access to information, and we believe that, equipped with that knowledge, that that’s a good thing for the Cuban people.”

“What is persuasive [about this enhanced U.S. leverage] is that most public polls indicate that upwards of 90 percent of the Cuban population actually support this policy change. . . . [This] is an indication that it’s not just the U.S. interests that are best served by this policy; it’s actually the interests of the Cuban people that are best served by this policy as well.”

This “is something that we can evaluate in the years to come.  I certainly am not going to make you wait 55 years to evaluate the success of this policy, but it’s clear that the previous policy could be evaluated over 55 years and it clearly did not bring about the kind of results that we’d like to see.”


[1] White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 7/20/15.

White House Press Secretary and Senate Majority Leader Offer Conflicting Comments About U.S.-Cuba Relations

Josh Earnest
Josh Earnest

On the afternoon of July 1, 2015, Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, held a press gaggle (an informal on-the-record briefing) en route to Nashville, Tennessee that involved many comments about U.S.-Cuba relations. The next day the U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, addressed the same subject with conflicting comments. [1]

White House Press Secretary

1. Congressional Repeal of the Embargo Against Cuba

With respect to prospects for congressional repeal of the U.S. embargo of Cuba, Earnest said, “I haven’t done any whip counts, but I do think that there is, at minimum, strong . . . bipartisan support in the [U.S.] Congress for lifting the embargo on Cuba.  This is a policy that the President is encouraging Congress to pursue, and I think it’s worth noting how misplaced the opposition to doing so is.”

“We actually see, based on publicly available data about the preferences and views of the Cuban people, that the overwhelming majority of them strongly support normalizing relations with the [U.S.] and deepening their engagement with the [U.S.]  And that takes a variety of forms.  That’s everything from establishing an embassy there, which we’ve obviously taken steps to do, but it involves expanded commerce between our two countries; it involves more Americans traveling to Cuba; and it involves Cubans having more access to information.”

“This is something that the Cuban people are hungry for.  And so all of those who claim to have the interests of the Cuban people at heart should be strongly supportive of a policy that the President has implemented that we know that the Cuban people overwhelmingly support.”

2.Conditions for U.S. Diplomats Travel in Cuba

After deferring to the State Department for details on the agreed-upon conditions for U.S. diplomats traveling in Cuba, Earnest did say, “We believe that sufficient progress was made in resolving some of those concerns to move forward with the opening of the [U.S.] embassy in Cuba.”

3. Response to Critics of Restoring Diplomatic Relations

With respect to critics of the restoration of diplomatic relations, Earnest said Senator Robert Menendez’s was wrong when he stated “that democracy and human rights take a backseat to a legacy initiative. . . .  The fact is the President has been very clear since mid-December when this was originally announced about what the goal of this policy change actually is.”

“For more than 50 years, the U.S. policy toward Cuba was an effort to isolate Cuba in the hopes that that isolation would bring about better protections for human rights, for basic personal liberties related to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech.  But yet, we saw very little change over the last [50-plus] years.  And the President believed it was time for us to consider a new approach, and to try a new strategy for bringing about the kind of change that we would like to see in Cuba.”

“[T]hose who are concerned about ensuring that the rights and preferences of the Cuban people are protected and even advanced should be strongly supportive of the President’s policy, because the Cuban people are strongly supportive of the President’s policy. . . .  Every available shred of evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority of the Cuban people actually do support this policy change and that the vast majority of the Cuban people actually do believe that it will allow their ambitions to be realized, and that by having greater engagement with the American people, having greater access to the U.S. government, having greater access to publicly available information — this is what the Cuban people believe is in their best interest.”

“The President believes that this also happens to be a policy that has important benefits for the [U.S.].  There are important economic opportunities for U.S. businesses on the island nation of Cuba.  We have seen that the change in our policy toward Cuba has strengthened our relations with other countries in the Western Hemisphere.  For a long time, we saw that the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba was actually an impediment to our ability to build strong relations with other nations in the Western Hemisphere, and we’ve actually seen that by removing that impediment, we’ve been able to deepen our ties with other countries in the Western Hemisphere and, as a consequence, actually increase international attention on the failures of the Cuban government to protect the basic human rights of the Cuban people.”

“The President believes strongly that this approach is clearly within the best interest of the United States, but also in the best interest of the Cuban people in allowing them to achieve their ambition of having a country that is integrated, that is free, where they can freely express their political views.”

4. Appointment of U.S. Ambassador to Cuba

“We haven’t laid out a timeline yet for when an announcement of an ambassadorial nomination would be made.  But obviously that would be another step in normalizing our relations with Cuba, would be to appoint an ambassador to lead the U.S. Embassy in Havana…. I’m confident that will be a venue for robust debate about how the policy changes that the President announced back in December aren’t just clearly in the best interests of the American people, they’re clearly in the best interests of the Cuban people, as well.”

“For obvious reasons, it would be our strong preference that once an ambassador has been nominated, for that individual to be treated fairly by the [U.S.] Senate and confirmed in bipartisan fashion so that they can represent the interests of the United States on the island nation of Cuba.”

Senate Majority Leader

Senator Mitch McConnell
Senator Mitch McConnell

On July 2, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (Rep., KY), the Senate Majority Leader, gave a speech to a local chamber of commerce in his home state of Kentucky in which he made negative comments about President Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba and promised Senate resistance to that policy.

He called Cuba “a thuggish regime” that is “a haven for criminals” fleeing prosecution in the United States. “I’m having a hard time figuring out what we got out of this, you know? You would think that the normalization of relations with Cuba would be accompanied by some modification of their behavior. I don’t see any evidence at all that they are going to change their behavior. So I doubt if we’ll confirm an ambassador, they probably don’t need one.”

Moreover, McConnell noted that many of the restrictions placed on Cuba would require congressional legislation, “and we’re going to resist that.”

His negative views were echoed by some of his fellow Republican Senators, especially Cuban-Americans Marco Rubio (FL) and Ted Cruz (Tex.), by John Boehner (Rep., OH), the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and by Republican presidential candidates, especially Jeb Bush.


[1] This post is based upon White House, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route Nashville, TN, 7/1/15; Fran, Top Republican doubts Senate will confirm ambassador to Cuba, Wash. Post (July 2, 2015); Carney, Cruz: Cuba embassy a ‘slap in the face’ to Israel, The Hill (July 1, 2015).







Update on Congressional Actions Regarding Cuba 

A June 12th post reviewed the status of appropriations bills relating to Cuba in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now we look at what happened last week in Congress on these and other measures.

National Defense Authorization Act FY 2016[1]

On June 18, the Senate passed its version of the spending authorization for the Department of Defense for Fiscal Year 2016.

The White House threatened to veto the bill. The main bone of contention is the bill’s continuation of sequestration of funds and use of so-called budget gimmicks. The White House opposes also opposes the bill because it contains language that it claims would make it hard to shutter the U.S. prison facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It calls the process for winning congressional approval of closing Guantánamo “unnecessary and overly restrictive.”

The same day, however, Senator John McCain (Rep., AZ) said that Defense Secretary Aston Carter had pledged to come forward to Congress with a plan to close the Guantanamo prison facility. Even if the administration hands over a plan to close the facility, however, it’s unclear if it could get passed through Congress. McCain’s proposal divided Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee and he faces opposition from House lawmakers.

Now the Senate and House have to confer and negotiate a bill that can pass both chambers. One of the major challenges are the different provisions regarding the Guantanamo detention facility and detainees:

  • The Senate’s version of the bill provides the President with a path to close the prison in Guantanamo if Congress signs off on the plan.
  • The House version does not include an option for closing the prison, but instead would maintain restrictions on transferring prisoners. The House bill also adds additional certification requirements, bans detainees from being transferred to “combat zones” and blocks any transfers of prisoners to the United States including for medical purposes.

Intelligence Authorization Act, FY 2016 (H.R.2596)[2]

On June 16 the House passed, 247-178, the Intelligence Authorization Act FY 2016 (H.R.2596). It outlines policy for 16 federal intelligence agencies, including the CIA and .the National Reconnaissance Agency. After the vote, John Boehner (Rep., OH), the Speaker of the House, said, “This bill sustains and strengthens our capabilities to combat terrorism, cyberattacks, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, while making every taxpayer dollar count.”

The bill’s sections 321 would ban the transfer of certain Guantanamo detainees to the U.S.; section 322 would ban the construction or modification of U.S. facilities to house certain Guantanamo detainees; and section 323 would ban transfer of Guantanamo detainees to combat zones. Sections 331 and 333 would require certain reports to Congress regarding such detainees.

Rep. Adam Schiff (Dem., CA), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, criticized the bill’s banning the government from transferring such detainees to the U.S. or a recognized “combat zone.” Schiff said, “We are not safer because of Guantanamo’s existence. In fact, it makes us more vulnerable by drawing more recruits to the jihad.” Moreover, the definition of “combat zone,” Schiff added, is “so broad as to include allies and partners such as Jordan.” An amendment from Schiff to eliminate the new restrictions failed 176-246.

Before the vote, the White House said, “While there are areas of agreement with the committee, the administration strongly objects to several provisions of the bill,” and “If this bill were presented to the president, the President’s senior advisors would recommend to the president that he veto it.”

Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act FY 2016[3]

On June 17 the House Appropriations Committee approved the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act FY 2016 on a straight party-line vote, 30 to 20.The Committee’s press release states the bill provides $20.2 billion in funding for “critical national programs to enforce U.S. laws , maintain a fair and efficient judicial system, and help small businesses grow” while reducing or eliminating lower-priority programs and cutting “poor-performing agencies—including an $838 million reduction to the Internal Revenue Service.”

One of the most controversial provisions of the bill was the temporary blocking of the newly implemented net neutrality rules, which was criticized by the White House without a threat of a veto.

As noted in a prior post, according to the Committee’s press release, the bill contains prohibitions on (a) “travel to Cuba for educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program;” (b) “importation of property confiscated by the Cuban Government;” and (c) “financial transactions with the Cuban military or intelligence service.” I, however, am still unable to find these provisions in the bill. I solicit comments identifying these provisions.

In the Committee Rep. Nita Lowey (Dem., NY), the top Democrat of the full committee, offered an amendment that would have removed what she called “20 veto-bait riders” or policy provisions, including these Cuba-related measures. The proposal was blocked on a party-line vote.

Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 (S.299)[4]

A prior post discussed the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 that was introduced by Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ). In addition, it now has 44 cosponsors: 36 Democrats, 6 Republicans and 2 Independents.

A recent New York Times editorial endorsed the lifting the ban on travel to Cuba. It said, “The ban — the only travel prohibition American citizens are currently subjected to — never made sense, and it’s particularly misguided in an era of broadening engagement between the United States and Cuba.” Now, “the trajectory is unmistakable. Public opinion polls show that a majority of Cubans on the island and Americans favor engagement. Congress should wait no longer to do its part.”

Cuban Military Transparency Act (S.1489)[5]

On June 3 Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) introduced the Cuban Military Transparency Act (S.1489) with seven cosponsors (Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), Orrin Hatch (Rep., UT), Tom Cotton (Rep., AR), Ted Cruz (Rep., TX), Cory Gardner (Rep., CO), David Vitter (Rep., LA), Mark Kirk (Rep., IL). It was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

The bill would prohibit a U.S. person from engaging in any financial transaction with or transfer of funds to: the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba or the Ministry of the Interior of Cuba (or any of their subdivisions); a senior member of such Ministries; any agency, instrumentality, or other entity that is more than 25% owned, or that is operated or controlled by, such a Ministry; or any individual or entity for the purpose of avoiding a prohibited financial transaction or transfer of funds that is for the benefit of that individual or entity. Excluded from these bans are the sale to Cuba of agricultural commodities, medicines, and medical devices; remittances to an immediate family member; or assistance in furtherance of democracy-building efforts for Cuba.

The bill would also require (a) the U.S. Attorney General to coordinate with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) in order to pursue the location and arrest of U.S. fugitives in Cuba, including current and former members of the Cuban military and (b) the U.S. President to provide reports on the role of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior in Cuba and the return of property that has been confiscated by the Government of Cuba.

In his press release about the bill, Senator Rubio said, ““It is not in the interest of the United States or the people of Cuba for the U.S. to become a financier of the Castro regime’s brutality. The Cuban Military Transparency Act would prevent U.S. dollars from getting into the hands of the Cuban military and would demand accountability from the Obama Administration regarding fugitives of American justice in Cuba, the return of stolen and uncompensated property and the role of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior in Cuba.”

The Center for Democracy in the Americas opposes this bill. It admits “that in Cuba, a socialist state with a largely state-owned economy, the military is invested in state-owned businesses, and several of those . . . are dominant players in Cuba’s tourist industry. Given the military’s broad role in Cuba’s economy, any expenditure by U.S. travelers and businesses – including the cost of hotel rooms, telephone calls, airport taxes, the hotel occupancy tax, sales taxes on tourist purchases, resort fees – could be prohibited presumptively unless the traveler or company could persuade [the U.S. Treasury agency] they spent their money in Cuba some other way.” But “how could they prove the negative? Who in Cuba will hand out the forms that say “that hotel room” or “that painting” or “that serving of ropa vieja” didn’t come from an enterprise owned or controlled by Cuba’s military?”

Therefore, according to the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the true purpose of this bill is “to shame, harass, and try to stop every American from visiting Cuba or seeking to do business in Cuba, and to return U.S. policy to its pre-December 17, 2014 goal of starving the Cuban economy and the Cuban people along with it.”


These latest congressional developments reinforce the need for continued vigilance by supporters of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation to pay attention to what is happening in Congress and to continue to express their opinions on these issues to their representatives in that body and to the larger community.

I take pride in the strong support for such reconciliation in the State of Minnesota, so far away from Cuba. A recent article in MINNPOST explored this apparently strange phenomenon. Eric Schwartz, Dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and a non-native Minnesotan, believes there are three main reasons for this fact. First, two of Minnesota’s biggest industries — agriculture and medical devices — have massive potential exports to Cuba. Second, Minnesota’s lack of a large Cuban-American community and its distance from the island mean our lawmakers are not subject to the same pressures as representatives from states like Florida and New Jersey. Third, many of Minnesota’s federal legislators are reasonable people.

I concur in that opinion, but believe Schwartz has missed the fundamental reason for strong Minnesota support for this reconciliation. Many people in this State are interested in what goes on in the world and are actively engaged with the rest of the world through their churches like Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Center for Victims of Torture, Advocates for Human Rights, the Minnesota Cuba Committee and various programs at the University of Minnesota and through Minnesotans’ welcoming immigrants and refugees from around the world, especially from Somalia, Viet Nam and Laos, and through major multinational corporations headquartered here like Cargill, which is leading the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba,3M, Medtronic and General Mills.

I was pleased to read about the change of heart of a prominent Cuban-American Republican who was U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the George W. Bush Administration, Carlos Gutierrez. In an op-ed essay in the New York Times, he said,” it is now time for Republicans and the wider American business community to stop fixating on the past and embrace a new approach to Cuba.” He added, “Some of my fellow Cuban-Americans insist that continuing to squeeze Cuba economically will help the Cuban people because it will lead to democracy. I wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.”

Gutierrez concluded, “America must look to the future instead — and pursue this opportunity to assist Cubans in building a new economy. There is a lot of work to do, and progress will be slow. However, the business community and my fellow Cuban-Americans and Republicans should not ignore the possibilities ahead. The Cuban people need and deserve our help.”


[1] Matishak, White House threatens to veto Senate’s defense spending bill, The Hill (June 18, 2015); Carney, McCain expects Pentagon plan on closing Guantanamo, The Hill (June 18, 2015);Carney, Five challenges for the defense bill (June 21, 2015).

[2] This section of the post is based upon Hattem, House passes intel bill over White House objections, The Hill (June 16, 2015).

[3] This section of the post is based upon the following: House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: Appropriations Committee Approves Fiscal Year 2016 Financial Services Bill (Jun 17, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., Financial Services Appropriations Act FY 2016 (June 9?, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., Report: Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, 2016, No. 114- —( 2015);Trujillo, House panel advances rider to block Internet rules, The Hill (June 7, 2015); Trujillo, Obama administration knocks net neutrality riders in funding bill, The Hill (June 17, 2015)  Shabad, Bill with $838M IRS cut advances in House, The Hill (June 17, 2015).

[4] Library of Congress THOMAS, S.299 Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 (Cosponsors)

[5] This portion of the post is based upon the following: Library of Congress THOMAS, Cuban Military Transparency Act; Rubio, Press Release: Senators Introduce Bill To Deny Resources To Castro’s Military and Security Services (June 3, 2015); Center for Democracy in Americas, The Cuban Military Not So Transparent Act (June 19, 2015).

U.S. Supreme Court Decision Bolsters Obama Administration’s Normalizing Relations with Cuba

On June 8, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court, 6 to 3, decided that the U.S. President had the exclusive power in the U.S. Government to recognize foreign nations and governments. The Court, therefore, declared unconstitutional an Act of Congress that allowed U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to have their U.S. passports identify Israel as their birthplace. (Zivotofsky v. Kerry, No. 13-628.)

This decision has major implications for the ongoing Obama Administration to normalize relations with Cuba with respect to existing law as well as current congressional Republican efforts to halt or hinder that normalization.

Zivotofsky v. Kerry

The Facts

Since the U.S. official recognition of the State of Israel in 1948, every U.S. president consistently has not acknowledged any country’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. Instead, the Executive Branch has maintained that “‘the status of Jerusalem . . . should be decided not unilaterally but in consultation with all concerned.’” Moreover, this issue of sovereignty is of great sensitivity in Arab-Israeli relations and negotiations. Therefore, the consistent policy and practice of the U.S. Department of State has been

to record the place of birth on a U.S. passport as the “country [having] present sovereignty over the actual area of birth” and to record the place of birth for citizens born in Jerusalem as “Jerusalem.”

In 2002, Congress passed the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003,116 Stat. 1350. Section 214 of the Act is titled “United States Policy with Respect to Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel,” and its subsection (d) allows U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to list their place of birth as “Israel.”

When President George W. Bush signed the Act, he issued a statement declaring that section 214 would, “if construed as mandatory rather than advisory, impermissibly interfere with the President’s constitutional authority to formulate the position of the United States, speak for the Nation in international affairs, and determine the terms on which recognition is given to foreign states.” Therefore, since then the State Department has not changed the previously described policy and practice regarding U.S. passports, the statute would not be honored.

When the State Department rejected the request on behalf of U.S. citizen Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky, who was born in Jerusalem, to have his passport designate Israel as his birthplace, his guardians sued to enforce Section 214. Thus, the issue for the Supreme Court was whether Section 214 was constitutional.[1]

The Opinion of the Court [2]

The opinion of the Court by Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged the international sensitivity of the issue. It said, “A delicate subject lies in the background of this case. That subject is Jerusalem. Questions touching upon the history of the ancient city and its present legal and international status are among the most difficult and complex in international affairs.” Moreover, “Jerusalem’s political standing has long been, and remains, one of the most sensitive issues in American foreign policy, and indeed it is one of the most delicate issues in current international affairs.”

The opinion then started with key constitutional provisions regarding foreign affairs. The key was Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which directs that the President “shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers.” After consulting the writings of international legal scholars at the time of the drafting of the Constitution, the Court concluded that it is “a logical and proper inference, then, that a Clause directing the President alone to receive ambassadors would be understood to acknowledge his power to recognize other nations.” This conclusion also was supported by the President’s other constitutional powers to make treaties, by and with the Advice and Consent of two-thirds of two-thirds of the Senators present (Art. II, §2, cl. 2.) and the power to “nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, . . . [to] appoint Ambassadors” as well as “other public Ministers and Consuls.”

These provisions and other considerations led the Court to conclude that “the text and structure of the Constitution grant the President the power to recognize foreign nations and governments” and that this power is exclusively the President’s. “Put simply, the Nation must have a single policy regarding which governments are legitimate in the eyes of the United States and which are not. Foreign countries need to know, before entering into diplomatic relations or commerce with the United States, whether their ambassadors will be received; whether their officials will be immune from suit in federal court; and whether they may initiate lawsuits here to vindicate their rights. These assurances cannot be equivocal.”

Nevertheless, the Court said in dicta, “many decisions affecting foreign relations—including decisions that may determine the course of our relations with recognized countries— require congressional action. Congress may ‘regulate Commerce with foreign Nations,’ ‘establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,’ ‘define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations,’ ‘declare War,’ ‘grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal,’ and ‘make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.’” (U. S. Const., Art. I, §8.) “In addition, the President cannot make a treaty or appoint an ambassador without the approval of the Senate.” (Art. II, §2, cl. 2.) “The President, furthermore, could not build an American Embassy abroad without congressional appropriation of the necessary funds.” (Art. I, §8, cl. 1.) (Emphasis added.) [3] Under basic separation-of-powers principles, it is for the Congress to enact the laws, including ‘all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution’ the powers of the Federal Government.”(§8, cl. 18)

This point about congressional power was underscored by the Court when it said “it is essential the congressional role in foreign affairs be understood and respected. For it is Congress that makes laws, and in countless ways its laws will and should shape the Nation’s course. The Executive is not free from the ordinary controls and checks of Congress merely because foreign affairs are at issue. It is not for the President alone to determine the whole content of the Nation’s foreign policy.” (Citations omitted.)

Reactions to the Court’s Decision

The White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, released a statement embracing the decision as it “reaffirms the long-established authority of the President to recognize foreign states, their governments, and their territorial boundaries” and “upholds the President’s long-standing authority to make these sensitive recognition determinations as part of his conduct of diplomacy and foreign policy.”

Alan Morrison, the Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest & Public Service Law, George Washington University Law School and the author of an amicus brief in the case in support of the Zivotofsky family, saw possible implications of the case for the current conflicts over Cuba policy between President Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress. Morrison said, President Obama “might announce that he has recognized the Castro-led Cuban government, with no worry about an effort of Congress to override him.” Congress, on the other hand, “might decide to up the ante by . . . using the power of the purse, especially as part of a bill that the president must sign to keep the government from shutting down.”[4]

Indeed, the Center for Democracy in the Americas asserts that this decision invalidates a major portion of the Helms-Burton Act, which “arrogates to the Congress a lot of authority for determining when – and under what circumstances – the United States can resume normal relations [with Cuba]. The law says . . . [only] when the government in Cuba fits the definition of a government in transition or a democratically-elected government can the President recognize Cuba, trade with Cuba, negotiate with Cuba over Guantanamo, allow Cuba to enter the World Bank or other financial institutions, etc.”[5]

In addition, at least three pending bills in Congress would appear to be unconstitutional under this recent Supreme Court decision as they would impose congressional preconditions to a presidential normalization and re-establishment of diplomatic relations: H.R.1782 (Cuba ceasing to violate human rights of its citizens), H.R.2466 and S.1388 (Administration plan for resolving all U.S. claims for property expropriated by Cuba).[6]

There also is at least one pending bill that would bar use of appropriated funds to construct a U.S. Embassy in Havana or expand the present facility housing the U.S. Interests Section there; that is the Department of State’s Appropriations Act FY 2016 that is still before the House Appropriations Committee.[7] That certainly would inhibit the operation of such a facility, but the Court in dicta in Zivotofsky said, ““The President, furthermore, could not build an American Embassy abroad without congressional appropriation of the necessary funds.” (Emphasis added.) Thus, this pending bill would seem to be within Congress’ prerogative, but the Administration always could make a request for a supplemental appropriation to convert the building to an embassy.

There are many bills imposing restrictions on U.S. changes affecting the prison or detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Cuba that, in my opinion, unnecessarily would limit the Administration’s desire to close that facility as well as its discussions with Cuba about the lease of that territory to the U.S., but would not run afoul of the Zvotofsky decision. In the House they are H.R.240, H.R. 401, H.R.654, H.R.1689, H.R.1735, H.R.2029, H.R.2578 and H.R.2685; in the Senate, S.165, S.778 and S.1376.[8]

Other pending bills similarly would impede reconciliation, but would not be barred by the Zvotofsky case. They are H.R.2323 (maintain Ratio and TV Marti), H.R.2577 (ban travel to Cuba on or over expropriated U.S. property), H.R.2578 (no exports to Cuban military and intelligence personnel and their families) and Department of Treasury Appropriations Act FY 2016 pending in the House Appropriations Committee (no imports of expropriated property and no financial transactions with Cuban military personnel).


Maybe this legal discussion is beside the point.

There are reports that the U.S. and Cuba by early July will re-establish diplomatic relations, and on June 13, Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) predicted the opening of both a Cuban embassy in Washington and a U.S. embassy in Havana will occur in the very near future. “Nothing has been set, but it’s imminent,” he said. Flake’s comments were made just after a meeting in Havana with Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, Josafina Vidal, Cuba’s lead negotiator with the U.S., and Cuba’s First Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel. [9]

If this happens, any new legislation to impose preconditions to recognition would be moot and litigation over the constitutional issue would take years to resolve. In any event, however, the Zvotofsky decision bolsters the Obama Administration’s pursuit of normalization and reconciliation with Cuba.


[1] The case originally was dismissed by the district court on the grounds that the petitioner lacked standing and that the case presented a nonjusticiable political question. The court of appeals affirmed on the political question ground while reversing on the standing ground. The Supreme Court granted certiorari, vacated the judgment and remanded for the circuit court to decide whether the statute was constitutional. Upon remand the circuit court decided that the statute was unconstitutional, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court in this recent decision..

[2] Mr. Justice Thomas filed a separate opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part. Chief Justice Roberts filed a separate dissenting opinion, and he along with Mr. Justice Alito joined the dissenting opinion of Mr. Justice Scalia. Analysis of these opinions will be left to others. The opinion of the Court and these other opinions are briefly discussed in Liptak, Supreme Court Backs White House on Jerusalem Passport Dispute, N.Y. Times (June 8, 2015).

[3] On commentator saw the highlighted mention of congressional power to withhold funds for building an embassy as a reference to a possible future congressional refusal to appropriate funds to convert the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to a U.S. Embassy.

[4] Morrison, Symposium: President wins in Zivotofsky: Will there be another battle? SCOTUSblog (June 9, 2015).

[5] Center for Democracy in Americas, Is The Supreme Court Passport Decision A Threat to Helms-Burton? We think so (June 12, 2015).

[6] These bills are discussed in the May 26, 2015 post.

[7] This bill is discussed in the June 12, 2105 post.

[8] These and the subsequently mentioned bills are discussed in the posts of May 26 and 28 and June 2, 10 and 12.

[9] Reuters, Exclusive: U.S.-Cuba Deal Expected in Early July to Restore Ties, Reopen Embassies, N.Y. times (June 13, 2015); Assoc. Press, Republican Senator Sees US Embassy in Cuba coming Soon, N.Y. Times (June 13, 2015). Accompanying Senator Flake on this Cuba trip were Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME) and Pat Roberts (KS).




More House Republican Efforts To Impede U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives continue inserting into appropriation bills provisions to impede U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. Here are three more.

Department of Defense Appropriation Act, 2016 [1]

On June 11, the House passed, 278-149, the Department of Defense Appropriation Act, 2016 (H.R.2685). According to the Appropriations Committee press release, the bill would provide $578.6 billion to fund “critical national security needs, military operations abroad, and health and quality-of-life programs for the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families.”

The bill also would bar the use of funds (i) “to transfer, release, or assist in the transfer or release to or within the United States, its territories, or possessions Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or [other non-U.S. citizens or non-members of U.S. Armed Forces at Guantanamo Bay Cuba on or after June 24, 2009] (Section 8100); (ii) “to construct, acquire, or modify any facility in the United States, its territories, or possessions to house any [such] individual” (Section 8101); and (iii) “to transfer any individual detained at . . . Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the custody or control of the individual’s country of origin, any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity except in accordance with section 1035 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014” (Section 8102).

Also on June 11 the Senate Appropriations Committee approved, 27-3, its defense- funding bill for $575.9 billion. Although only three Democrats voted against the bill, the Democrats’ leaders said they would block the bill on the floor because it continues the sequestration of funding, which they oppose. However, the committee did vote 18-12 to adopt a measure by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Dem, NH) to express the sense of the Senate that the budget caps should be lifted.

Moreover, Democratic senators are threatening to block consideration of all spending bills unless the Republicans agree to a budget summit. In addition, the White House is threatening to veto any such measure that has the sequestration caps.

A motion to amend the bill was offered by Democratic Senators Dick Durbin (IL) and Diane Feinstein (CA) to allow the Obama administration to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainees to maximum-security prisons in the U.S., but it was defeated, 14-16.
Durbin argued that it cost $3.2 million per year to house a detainee at the Cuban prison, versus $70,000 at a super-max facility in the U.S. while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a retired Air Force colonel and a 2016 presidential candidate, argued the funding for Guantánamo is “money well spent” and hoped “we fill the damn place up.”

The White House has threatened a veto of these bills over insufficient funding and the above provisions relating to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

State Department Appropriations Act FY 2016 [2]

On June 11 the House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the appropriations bill for the State Department and Foreign Operations for FY 2016. It would provide nearly $47.8 billion, which is 11% ($869 million) less than the White House’s request.[3]

The bill contains provisions that impede U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. The main one is Section 7045 (c)(3)(A) (pp. 175-76), that would bar the use of funds (i) “for the establishment or operations of a United States diplomatic presence, including an Embassy, Consulate, or liaison office, in Cuba beyond that which was in existence prior to December 17, 2014;” or (ii) “to facilitate the establishment or operation of a diplomatic mission of Cuba, including an Embassy, Consulate, or liaison office, in the United States beyond that which was in existence prior to December 17, 2014.”[4]

There are still other references to Cuba in the bill. Section 7045 (c)(1) allocates $30 million “to promote democracy and strengthen civil society in Cuba: Provided, That no funds shall be obligated for business promotion, economic reform, entrepreneurship, or any other assistance that is not democracy-building as expressly authorized in the Cuban Liberty and Solidarity (LIBERTAD)Act of 1996 and the Cuban Democracy Act (CDA) of 1992.” Section 7045 (c)(2) prohibits use of certain funds to establish any organization to carry out the existing broadcasting and related programs for Latin America and the Caribbean region or to alter the structure of Cuba Broadcasting. Others are Section 7007 (p. 64)(no funds for “assistance or reparations for the governments of Cuba, North Korea, Iran or Syria”); and Section 7015 (f) (p. 76-81)(no funds for assistance to Cuba and certain other countries).

Reacting to the Committee’s previous release of a draft of the bill, the White House budget director Shaun Donovan said the funding level “will pose a significant constraint on USAID and the Department of State’s ability to conduct diplomatic engagement. Taken together, these cuts would impede our ability to conduct effective diplomacy and development, essential components of our national security,” Donovan also criticized the ban on funds for a new embassy in Havana. He said it would interfere with the executive branch’s ability “to make the best decisions consistent with our national security.”

The bill also has a provision to withhold 15 percent of the State Department’s operational funds, unless it turns over documents faster to the congressional panel investigating the assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Treasury Department Appropriations Act FY 2016[5]

On June 10 the Appropriations Committee released the draft Financial Services Bill FY 2016. According to the Committee’s press release, the bill allocates $20.2 billion for the Treasury Department, the Judiciary, the Small Business Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several other agencies. It purportedly prioritizes “critical national programs to enforce U.S. laws, maintain a fair and efficient judicial system, and help small businesses grow.” It also “reduces or eliminates lower-priority programs and cuts funding to poor-performing agencies—including an $838 million reduction to the Internal Revenue Service.”

The Committee’s press release also discloses that the bill contains prohibitions on (a) “travel to Cuba for educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program;” (b) “importation of property confiscated by the Cuban Government;” and (c) “financial transactions with the Cuban military or intelligence service.” I searched, but could not find these provisions in the 156-page draft bill, and I solicit comments to identify these provisions. Here is an outline of the bill to assist in such an endeavor

Title Pages Subject
I 2-27 Department of Treasury
II 27-41 Executive Office of the President
III 42-50 Judiciary
IV 51-61 District of Columbia
V 61-96 Independent Agencies
VI 96-111 General Provisions—This Act
VII 111-146 General Provisions—Government-Wide
VIII 146-156 General Provisions—District of Columbia
IX 156 Additional General Provision

The draft bill on June 11 was submitted for markup to the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, but so far no information is available about the result of that markup. It will be before the full Committee for markup on June 17th.


I already have expressed my disgust at these anti-reconciliation measures and at the tactic of including them in appropriations bills and thereby running the risk of partial or complete government shutdown if the President vetoes some or all of such bills.

Therefore, all supporters of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation should contact their representatives and senators to urge them to seek to eliminate these provisions. Contact information for senator and representatives is available online.


[1] Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2016 (H.R. 2685); House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: House Appropriations Committee House Releases Fiscal 2016 Defense Bill (May 19, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: House Passes Fiscal Year 2016 Defense Appropriations Bill (June 11, 2015); Matishak & Wong, OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House passes defense spending bill, The Hill (June 11, 2015); Assoc. Press, House Passes Defense Spending Bill, N.Y. Times (June 11, 2015).

[2] House App. Comm., Draft Bill Making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes (June 2, 2015); House App. Comm, Press Release: Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2016 State and Foreign Operations bill, (June 2, 2015); Reuters, U.S. House Panel Seeks to Ban Funding for U.S. Embassy in Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: Appropriations Committee Approves Fiscal Year 2016 State and Foreign Operations Bill (June 11, 2015); Matishak, Funding bill advances despite criticism of Benghazi provision, The Hill (June 11, 2015), Shabab, WH budget chief: GOP spending bill would interfere with diplomacy, The Hill (June 10, 2015); Assoc. Press, House Panel Oks Bill Punishing State Over Benghazi Response, N.Y. Times (June 11, 2015).

[3] A prior post discussed the draft of this bill.

[4] The above prohibited use of funds would “not apply if the President determines and reports to the appropriate congressional committees that the government in Cuba has met the requirements and factors specified in section 205 of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (22 U.S.C. 6065).” (Section 7045 (c )(3)(B).)

[5]  House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2016 Financial Services Bill (June 10, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., A Bill Making appropriations for financial services and general government for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016 and for other purposes (June 10, 2015);  Shabad, House Republicans propose $838 million cut to IRS, The Hill (June 10, 2015).