Is Trump Administration Attempting To Redefine International Human Rights?

Since the end of World War II, treaties and international institutions have defined and developed international human rights and institutions, as discussed in previous posts. [1]

Commission on Unalienable Rights [2]

Now with little fanfare the U.S. State Department recently announced the establishment of  the Commission on Unalienable Rights. Here are the key provisions of its Charter:

  • The Commission will provide the Secretary of State with “informed advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters . . . [and] fresh thinking about human rights and . . . reforms of human rights discourse where it has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” (Para. 3) (emphasis added).
  • The Commission’s advice and recommendations will help “guide U.S. diplomatic and foreign policy decisions and actions with respect to human rights in international settings . . . [and] recover that which is enduring for the maintenance of free and open societies.” (Para. 4) (emphasis added).

The Commission will be composed of “no more than fifteen members who have distinguished backgrounds in international law, human rights, and religious liberties.” Its membership “will be a bipartisan, diverse group of men and women.”

The phrase “unalienable rights,” of course, comes from the second paragraph of the U.S. Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Emphasis added.)

At first glance this may sound like an unobjectionable reference to an important document and concept of U.S. history. But it may be much more than that. It may be an attempt by the Trump Administration to redefine international human rights, as suggested by Eric Posner, Professor at the University of Chicago Law School.

Reactions of Professor Eric Posner [3]

Posner so far has been the only one to have noticed this Commission. He says “the significance of . . . [this Commission] should not be overlooked. It puts the government’s imprimatur on an assault upon one of the cornerstones of modern liberalism: international human rights.”

This conclusion, Posner argues, follows from the Commission’s name, implicitly emphasizing that these rights are endowed ‘by their Creator” and come from “natural law” and “natural rights.” This interpretation, he claims, also is suggested by the Charter’s reference to “discourse,” implying that contemporary human rights is merely talk, not law. In short, this Charter is conservatives’ “declaration of intent. Its plainly stated goal is not just to wipe away the baleful foreign influence of human rights ‘discourse’ but to revive [conservative] 18th-century natural law.”

In Posner’s opinion, the reference to natural law is an indirect endorsement of contemporary Roman “Catholic conservative intellectuals, who kept alive the academic tradition of natural law long after mainstream secular intellectuals forgot what it was —[and, therefore,] . . .  goodbye to reproductive rights and protections for sexual minorities.” Posner also claims that Robert George, a prominent Catholic intellectual, natural-law theorist, and opponent of abortion rights and same-sex marriage, played a role in the creation of the Commission. In other words, this new commission will provide “the ideological justification for the anti-abortion foreign policy that the Trump administration has undertaken”

Natural law, says Posner, can also be used by conservatives to argue for “expanded religious freedoms that override statutes with secular goals, and to push back against progressive government programs like universal health care. The ‘right to health,’ a centerpiece of ‘human rights law,’ is firmly rejected by natural-law theorists like George.

“But the mission of the commission may be even bolder,” in Posner’s opinion. ”If we take the idea of natural law seriously, it not only overrides statutes in foreign countries that protect abortion rights and respect same-sex marriage. It also overrides American laws that protect abortion rights and respect same-sex marriage. One can imagine a day when a Supreme Court justice, taking a page from [former Supreme Court Justice Anthony] Kennedy, invokes natural law — supposedly endorsed by the founders, after all, and embodied in the sacred Declaration — to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and to prepare the path for an even holier grail, the abolition of state laws that grant abortion rights.”

“Liberals hoped that human rights, sanctified by the sacrifices of the victims of totalitarianism, would provide common ground in a world of competing ideologies. But what human rights actually helped produce was a liberal international order that has offended a great many people who do not share liberal values. The backlash began years ago in authoritarian countries, in developing countries that saw human rights as an affront to their traditions and as a mask for imperialist goals, and in highly religious countries. These countries advanced interpretations of human rights law that conform with their values or interests but made little headway against dominant elite opinion. What is new is that the government of the world’s most powerful nation [the U.S.], long acknowledged (if grudgingly) as the leader of the international human rights regime, has officially signed on to that backlash.”

Presumably this Posner argument is expanded in his recent book, The Twilight of Human Rights Law.[4]

Conclusion

Although noted author and commentator George Will is not a fan of President Trump, he probably is sympathetic to the recent trumpeting of “ unalienable rights” and “natural law” and “natural rights.” In the “Introduction” to his new book, The Conservative Sensibility, Will says “We [conservatives] seek to conserve the American Founding” with a “clear mission: It is to conserve, by articulating and demonstrating the continuing pertinence of, the Founders’ thinking.” Indeed, “Americans codified their Founding doctrines as a natural rights republic in an exceptional Constitution, one that does not say what government must do for them but what government may not do for them.”

Therefore, according to Mr.Will, “The doctrine of natural rights is the most solid foundation—perhaps the only firm foundation—for the idea of the political equality of all self-directing individuals..”

In retrospect, perhaps the Trump Administration has been dropping hints that something like the Commission might be coming by the State Department’s using the phrase “unalienable rights” in various statements and documents.[5]

Although this blogger has no objection to contemporary references to the language of our Declaration of Independence, he does object to the notion that this new Commission is an underhanded way to implement current political preferences of this Administration. Moreover, this blogger suggests that it is too simplistic to use notions of natural law to preempt the decisions on the previously mentioned contemporary issues.

After all, natural rights and human rights treaties can be seen as compatible allies, just as English and American common law are compatible with their respective statutes. Such multilateral treaties with provisions for implementation and amendment are drafted by committees and individual nation states are not bound by the treaties unless and until they ratify the treaties. Similarly domestic statues in the U.S. and U.K. are prepared and adopted by legislatures, often as a result of common law developments, and always are subject to subsequent amendment.

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[1]  See posts listed in the following: List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law (INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT); List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law (REFUGEE & ASYLUM)List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law (TREATIES); List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law: U.S. (ALIEN TORT STATUTE); List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law U.S. (TORTURE VICTIMS  PROTECTION ACT).

[2] State Dep’t, Notice: Department of State Commission on Unalienable Rights, 84 Fed. Reg. 25109 (May 30, 2019); State Dep’t, Charter: Commission on Unalienable Rights (created: May 10, 2019); State Dep’t, Membership Balance Plan: Commission on Unalienable Rights (created: May 10, 2019).

[3] Posner, The administration’s plan to redefine ‘human rights’ along conservative lines, Wash. Post (June 14, 2019).

[4] Posner, The Twilight of Human Rights Law (Oxford Univ. Press, 2014-).

[5]  State Dep’t, Secretary Tillerson’s Testimony before Senate Appropriations Committee (June  13, 2017) (“Our mission is at all times guided by our longstanding values of freedom, democracy, individual liberty, and human dignity. The conviction of our country’s founders is enduring: that all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” (Emphasis added); State Dep’t, [Secretary Tillerson’s] Remarks With Secretary General of the Community of Democracies Thomas Garrett (Sept. 17, 2017) (“In our Declaration of Independence, our founders boldly stated that all are endowed by their creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Emphasis added); State Dep’t, [Secretary Tillerson’s] Remarks at the “Conversation on the Value of Respect” Event (Jan. 12, 2018) (“It was the Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson who wrote that we are all endowed with certain unalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”); State Dep’t, Remarks on the Release of the 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (April 20, 2018) (these annual reports “are a natural outgrowth of our values as Americans. The founding documents of our country speak to unalienable rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law – revolutionary concepts at the time of our founding that are now woven into the fabric of America and its interests both at home and abroad”); State Dep’t, The State Department Role in Countering Violent Extremism (May 30, 2018) (“America is committed to individual rights, and we recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. We are all, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”); State Dep’t, 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Mar. 13, 2019) ((Secretary Pompeo’s Preface :”The United States was founded on the premise that all persons “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Our Constitution secures these unalienable rights . . . in the First [and Fifth] amendments.” ((emphasis added); State Dep’t, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo At the Celebration of Israel’s 71st Independence Day (May 22, 2019) (both the Israel Declaration of Independence of 1948 and the U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776 “speak of central ideas that are ‘self-evident’ – In the American case, it’s the truth that men are created equal and have rights that are unalienable”) (Emphasis added).

 

 

 

Proposed U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution on Cuban Human Rights

An international coalition of 75 human rights organizations has asked the U.N. Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution on Cuban human rights at its meeting in Geneva, Switzerland  on June 24 to July 12. [1]

Here are the terms of action in that proposed resolution:[2]

“1. Strongly condemns the grave human rights violations and abuses committed by the Government of Cuba, including the denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and association, both online and offline; the widespread use of arbitrary arrest and detention, including preemptive detention, and other forms of harassment and intimidation as tools to suppress political dissent; use of violence by Government forces to threaten and intimidate arrestees and detainees; and widespread violations of the rights to due process and to a trial before a fair, independent and impartial tribunal; “

“2. Calls upon Cuba to fully grant its citizens internationally recognized civil, political, and economic rights and freedoms, including freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and free access to information;”

“3. Demands that Cuba, including its judicial and security branches, create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment in which an independent, diverse, and pluralistic civil society can operate free from undue hindrance and insecurity;”

“ 4. Urges Cuba to end widespread and serious restrictions, in law and in practice, on the right to freedom of expression, opinion, associations and peaceful assembly, both online and offline, including by ending the harassment, intimidation and persecution of political opponents, human rights defenders, women’s and minority rights activists, labour leaders, students’ rights activists, journalists, bloggers, social media users, social media page administrators, media workers, religious leaders and lawyers;”

“5. Strongly urges Cuba to release persons arbitrarily detained for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, to consider rescinding unduly harsh sentences for exercising such fundamental freedoms and to end reprisals against individuals, including for cooperating with the United Nations human rights mechanisms;”

“ 6. Strongly condemns the lack of free, fair and transparent democratic elections in Cuba, and in particular the constitutional referendum of 24 February 2019, which was marked by fraud, lack of transparency and violence against the Government’s political opponents;”

“7. Determines that the new constitution has no legitimacy, and that members of the National Assembly, President Miguel Días-Canel and Communist Party leader Raul Castro lack any legitimacy, given that they were not elected by the people of Cuba in free, fair and multiparty elections;”

“8. Calls upon Cuba to launch a comprehensive accountability process in response to all cases of serious human rights violations, including those involving the Cuban judiciary and security branches, and calls upon the Government of Cuba to end impunity for such violations;”

“9. Calls upon the Government to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner, the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and the relevant treaty bodies, as well as the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, including by facilitating visits, granting unfettered access throughout the country, including to detention facilities, and preventing and refraining from all acts of intimidation or reprisal, and to positively consider the recommendations made in their reports;”

“10. Decides to appoint a Special Rapporteur to monitor developments and make recommendations on the situation of human rights in Cuba for a period of one year, who will submit a report to the Human Rights Council at its forty-third session;”

“11. Calls upon the Government of Cuba to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur, to permit access to visit the country and to provide the information necessary for the fulfilment of the mandate;”

“12. Requests the Office of the High Commissioner to provide the Special Rapporteur with the assistance and resources necessary to fulfil the mandate;”

“13. Requests the High Commissioner to provide an oral update on the situation of human rights in Cuba to the Council at its forty-second session, and to submit a follow-up report to the Council and to hold an Interactive Dialogue on the situation of human rights in Cuba at its forty-third session;”

“14. Decides to remain seized of the matter.”

Conclusion

Now we wait to see if this proposed resolution is put to a vote by the Council and the results of any such vote.

In the meantime,  Freedom House, which describes itself as “an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world,” recently released its 2019 annual report about 195 countries concluding that 86 were “FREE,”  59 “PARTLY FREE” and 50, including Cuba, as “NOT FREE.”

This was its Overview for Cuba:  “Cuba is a one-party communist state that outlaws political pluralism, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite new leadership in 2018 and a process of diplomatic “normalization” with Washington, which has stalled in recent years.”  [3]

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[1] The UN Human Rights Council could discuss a resolution on Cuba, Diario de Cuba (June 13, 2019); Proposed Draft Resolution for U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Situation of Human Rights in Cuba.

[2] Footnotes to the operative paragraphs of the proposed resolution state that they are based upon various sources, including  recommendations by European Union member states at Cuba’ Universal Periodic Review by the Council in July 2018. Previous blog posts have discussed other Council proceedings regarding Cuba. See the “Cuban Human Rights” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaires—Topical: CUBA.

[3] Freedom House, Democracy in Retreat: Freedom in the World 2019; Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2019.

Did State Department Ineptly Investigate the Medical Problems of Some U.S. Diplomats in Cuba?

According to  Dan Vergano of BuzzFeed,News, the U.S. State Department has mismanaged its investigation of the medical problems experienced by some U.S. diplomats stationed in Havana since December 2016.[1]

This report says, “much of the early research into the mystery may have been botched or biased. The initial investigation was confined to two competing sets of researchers, both eager to publish studies on their own work, and whose findings have been at odds with each other. In one case, researchers were also seeking to promote their own newly approved medical device as a diagnostic tool. And until now, the effort has lacked broader oversight by an institution capable of cross-disciplinary research.”

The initial two medical teams “diagnosed the diplomats with injuries centered on their own respective areas of research expertise: inner ear damage and concussions.” Another team from the Center for Disease Control was asked to investigate over a year ago and has not yet submitted a report. Now the U.S. National Academy of Sciences will be starting yet another investigation, but there is concern this may be too late.

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[1] Vergano, The US Government Botched Its Investigation Into The Mysterious “Sonic Attack” in Cuba, Emails Reveal, BussFeed.News (May 29, 2019).  This blog has published many posts on this situation. See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats’ Medical Problems in Cuba, 2016-?” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

President Eisenhower and U.S. Covert Plan Against Cuba

The U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian has published two important and largely declassified documents relating to the initial U.S. (Eisenhower Administration) response in 1959-60  to the Cuban Revolution. Here are summaries of those documents.

“A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime”[1]      .

The author of this document, dated March 16, 1960, was the 5412 Committee, which was “the name given to the group assigned responsibility for the planning and conduct of covert operations” and whose “working methods and the people who compose it should be protected.” After its name apparently was published in a 1964 book, The Invisible Government by David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, the name was changed to an “utterly drab and innocuous” name, the 303 Committee, without altering its “composition, function or responsibility.”[2]

The “Objective” of this proposed covert program was “to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention. Essentially the method of accomplishing this end will be to induce, support, and so far as possible direct action, both inside and outside of Cuba, by selected groups of Cubans of a sort that they might be expected to and could undertake on their own initiative.”

This proposed program to be undertaken by the CIA had the following four “major courses of action:”

  • The “creation of a responsible, appealing and unified Cuban opposition to the Castroregime, publicly declared as such and therefore necessarily located outside of Cuba.”
  • “So that the opposition may be heard and Castro’s basis of popular support undermined, it is necessary to develop the means for mass communication to the Cuban people so that a powerful propaganda offensive can be initiated in the name of the declared opposition. The major [proposed] tool . . . is a long and short wave gray broadcasting facility. . . “ [3]
  • “Work is already in progress in the creation of a covert intelligence and action organization within Cuba which will be responsive to the orders and directions of the ‘exile’ opposition.”
  • ”Preparations have already been made for the development of an adequate paramilitary force outside of Cuba, together with mechanisms for the necessary logistic support of covert military operations on the Island. . . . [This force will] be available for immediate deployment into Cuba to organize, train and lead resistance forces recruited there both before and after the establishment of one or more active centers of resistance. . . . [A] limited air capability for resupply and for infiltration and exfiltration already exists under CIA”[4]

President Eisenhower’s Approval of the Program of Covert Action[5]

CIA Director Allen Dulles presented a summary of the above Plan for Covert Action at a White House meeting on March 17, 1960.

In response, President Eisenhower said, “he knows of no better plan for dealing with this situation. The great problem is leakage and breach of security. Everyone must be prepared to swear that he has not heard of it. He said we should limit American contacts with the groups involved to two or three people, getting Cubans to do most of what must be done.  . . . [The President] understood that the effort will be to undermine Castro’s position and prestige.”

The President  “told Mr. Dulles . . . [to] go ahead with the plan and the operations.” The President, however, added, “that, as he saw it, Castro the Revolutionary had gained great prestige in Latin America. Castro the Politician running the government is now losing it rapidly. However, governments elsewhere cannot oppose him too strongly since they are shaky with respect to the potentials of action by the mobs within their own countries to whom Castro’s brand of demagoguery appeals. Essentially the job is to get the OAS to support us.”

Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Anderson,  said “Castro is trying to inflame Cuban opinion and create an incident against the Americans which would touch off attacks on Americans in Cuba which might result in the death of thousands. The President stated that once . . . [the paramilitary invasion] gets started, there will be great danger to the Americans in Cuba.” Anderson added, “that if Cuba is to seize the Nicaro plant [6]  or other U.S. Government property, we could not stand on the sidelines. In response to a question by the President, it was brought out that there is no treaty on this, and that Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given.” (Emphasis added.)[7]

In addition to those already mentioned,  this meeting was attended by the following officials: Vice President Richard Nixon; Secretary of State Christian Herter; John N. Irwin, II, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations; General Goodpastor, White House Staff Secretary;  Major John Eisenhower, Assistant Staff Secretary to the President (and the President’s son); Colonel J.C. King, Chief of CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division; Livingston T. Merchant, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Mr. Roy R. Rubottom, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs; Richard Bissel, CIA Deputy Director for Plans; and Gordon Gray, U.S. National Security Advisor.

Other Eisenhower Administration Documents About Cuba[8]

The above documents are contained in a collection of 629 documents published in 1991 by the State Department’s Office of the Historian. It is available online and contains the following parts:

  1. U.S. interest in the Cuban revolution, the overthrow of the Batista government, and the consolidation of power by Fidel Castro, reevaluation by the U.S. Government of the policy of shipping arms to the Batista government, January-June 1958 (Documents 1-68).
  2. Kidnapping of U.S. citizens by Cuban rebels, June-July 1958 (Documents 69-106).
  3. Continuing violence during the Cuban electoral campaign and reappraisal by the U.S. Government of its support of the Batista government (Documents 107-151).
  4. Fall of the Batista government, November-December 1958 (Documents 152-206).
  5. Fidel Castro’s assumption of power, January-April 1959 (Documents 207-272).
  6. Visit to the United States by Prime Minister Castro, April 1959 (Documents 273-305).
  7. The Cuban Government’s promulgation of an agrarian reform law, and the question of asylum for Batista, May-October 1959 (Documents 306-369).
  8. Adoption by the Department of State and the Eisenhower administration of a revised policy toward Cuba, October 1959-January 1960 (Documents 370-423).
  9. Recall of Ambassador Bonsal and formulation within the U.S. Government of a program of covert action against the Castro government, January -April 1960 (Documents 424-498).
  10. Inauguration by the U.S. Government of a policy to weaken the Cuban economy, April-July 1960 (Documents 499-548).
  11. Response by the United States and the Organization of American States to signs of increased Soviet support for the Cuban government, July-September 1960 (Documents 549-580).
  12. Consideration by the U.S. Government of possible severance of diplomatic relations with Cuba, September-December 1960 (Documents 581-629).

Conclusion

A reasonably informed student of U.S. history already would know that in the early months of the Kennedy Presidency in 1961 the U.S. supported an unsuccessful paramilitary invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) and that this operation had been planned in the later days of the Eisenhower Administration. Thus, the above documents from the earlier administration merely provide details on its planning for this invasion.  In addition, these two documents indicate that the earlier administration  was actively engaged in trying to create, on the island and elsewhere, a Cuban opposition to Castro and a covert intelligence and action organization on the island; as well as a radio propaganda program whose signals would be sent to the island. These facets also are not surprising given what we already knew about this period.

This understanding of the historical context also may partially explain the cursory treatment of these two documents in an excellent and well documented book about the U.S. and Cuba by U.S. experts on Cuba, William M. Leo Grande and Peter Kornbluh: Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2014). However, as the book’s title suggests, its focus is on negotiations between the two countries, not on what was happening that led to negotiations. In any event, here is what is what this book said about these two documents:

  • “On March 17,. . . Eisenhower signed a top secret authorization for ‘A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,’ giving the CIA the green light to begin covert paramilitary operations to roll back the Cuban revolution.” This was the same day that Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós, rejected “ a feeler” put forward by a legal advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Mario Lazo, to Cuban Treasury Minister López-Fresque that the U.S. “was prepared to work aggressively to halt that exile flights from Florida that were burning Cuban sugar cane fields . . . if the Cubans , in return, would be prepared to engage in serious talks on a broad range of issues.” (Pp. 33-34)
  • The Covert Plan of March 1960, as quoted above, called for the development of a TOP SECRET paramilitary force to invade Cuba which in fact happened in April 1961 in the early days of the John F. Kennedy Administration. The LeoGrande and Kornbluh book merely states the following: “as president-elect, [Kennedy] . . . was briefed by the CIA on Eisenhower’s covert paramilitary project to invade Cuba with an exile brigade. As president, [Kennedy] . . . ignored the entreaties of several Latin American governments that, at Cuba’s behest, tried to intercede at the last minute to broker a U.S.-Cuba dialogue before the Bay of Pigs invasion. Instead, Kennedy gave the green light, sending a CIA-led paramilitary exile force at Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs] on April 17, 1961, in the hope that the invaders would somehow spark a popular uprising. They didn’t, and within seventy-two hours, the brigade’s beachhead had collapsed; more than twelve hundred of them were taken prisoner.” (Pp. 42-43.)[9]

These two documents also recently were referred or alluded to by a Cuban source.[10]  However, these references were merely jumping-off places for a diatribe against the U.S. Some of these other points may be justified, but they would need to be analyzed, carefully and dispassionately. Moreover, this Cuban source ignores the progress that was made in addressing these and other issues in the two countries’ bilateral meetings in 2015-16.[11]

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[1]  Paper Prepared by the 5412 Committee (Mar. 16, 1960) (# 481).

[2] National Security Action Memorandum No. 303 (June 2, 1964).

[3] In 1983 President Ronald Reagan established Radio Marti, whose mission was to hasten the fall of Cuban President Fidel Castro and communism on the island. (Radio Marti, Wikipedia.)

[4] This is an obvious reference to the paramilitary force that invaded Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in April 1961 during the Kennedy Administration.

[5] Memorandum of a Conference With the President, White House, Washington, March 17, 1960, 2:30 p.m.

[6]  During WWII, the U.S. government built a nickel processing plant near Nicaro, Cuba under a U.S.-Cuba treaty that exempted the plant from Cuban taxes. The plant was closed after the war in 1947, but reopened with improvements in 1952. After the Cuban Revolution took control of the country’s government in January 1959, Cuba that same year adopted a new mining law imposing sharply increased taxes on mining and export of minerals. In protest the U.S. stopped shipments from the plant in December 1959. Thereafter Fidel and Che made frequent verbal attacks on the U.S. over the plant; and in October 1960 Cuba nationalized the plant. (Bart, Flow of Nickel from Cuba Halts, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 1959); U.S. Nickel Plant Hindered in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 25, 1960); NICARO Talks to Reopen, N.Y. Times (Aug. 2, 1960); Soviet Mission in Cuba: Group Plans Help to Reopen U.S. Nicaro Nickel Plant, N.Y.Times (Nov. 30, 1960); Veloz Placencia, Che’s passion for the nickel industry, Granma (Aug. 23, 2017).

[7] This admission by a top U.S. government official in 1960 that “Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given” should not be forgotten in the ongoing dispute over Cuban compensation for its expropriation of U.S.-owned property in Cuba and the U.S. recent steps to allow enforcement of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. It also must be remembered that Cuba over the years repeatedly has admitted  that it has such an obligation under international law, that Cuba has resolved similar claims by other countries and that in various U.S.-Cuba discussions in 2015-16 the two parties exchanged information about compensation for such properties. Finally it cannot be forgotten that Cuba does not have the financial resources to make such compensation in full.

[8] In more than 450 individual volumes the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian has published Foreign Relations of the United States series to offer the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity.”

[9] In a footnote LeoGrande and Kornbluh say the best account of the Bay of Pigs disaster is Peter Wyden, Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1979). See also Kornbluh, Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba (National Security Archive Documents)(New York, The New Press, 1998). These books will be reviewed in a subsequent post.

[10] Escuela, Cuba denounces war on our people, Granma (May 22, 2019).

[11] See posts listed in the “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2015” and “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2016” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

 

 

Carolyn Forché’s Additional Comments about Saint Oscar Romero

A prior post discussed poet-memoirist Carolyn Forché’s four encounters with Archbishop (now Saint) Oscar Romero that were included in her memoir, What You Have Heard Is True.

Recently Forché had additional comments about Romero in an interview by Robin Lindley, a Seattle-based writer and attorney and features editor of the History Notes Network.[1]Here is what Forché said:

“Monsignor Romero was very kind. He was a bit shy, very studious, and deeply thoughtful. He had studied in Rome.”

“As things started to deteriorate and as the killing escalated, one of his close friends, Father Rutillo Grande, a Jesuit, was murdered. Monsignor Romero went to keep vigil with his body and then began to publicly denounce the military regime. He became the only institutional voice against the oppression in the country. He was a very visible public figure, and he saw himself as a shepherd, as a bishop of his people, as someone to stay with his people and keep watch with them and take care of them. Every Sunday he would say mass in the cathedral and his homily would be broadcast all over the country on radio.”

“The right hated Monsignor Romero. He was number one on the death squad hit lists, some of which were printed in the newspapers. Yet he stood up and he denounced the oppression every Sunday. And he read out the names of the dead. He was very compelling. He said yes to the call of that moment.”

“The last time I talked to him, he told me I had to leave the country the next day. I asked if he would leave the country. He said, ‘No, my place is with my people and your place with yours now.’  That was difficult for me to accept, but Monsignor Romero knew what was coming. He knew his time was short.”

“I also thought he was a saint long before the Vatican acknowledged his sainthood. There was a kind of tranquility about him, even though he felt fear. He talked about feeling fear like any other human being. But he gave his life for his people. He didn’t abandon them. I have utmost regard and also love for him, and his loss was a grave one for humanity.”

“But now we have him among us in spirit.  The people of El Salvador venerated his sanctity long before the Vatican acknowledged it.”

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[1] Lindley, Carolyn Forché: Bearing Witness to the Wounds of History, History News Network (May 12, 2019).

 

Still Uncertainty Over What Happened to U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

A lengthy New York Times article reviews the different theories that have been offered about what happened to some U.S. diplomats in Cuba starting in December 2016. The article then concludes by saying that to this date no one really knows the cause(s).[1]

The article, however, presses the question of whether the diplomats symptoms “are primarily psychogenic — or ‘functional’ — in nature. If true, it would mean that the symptoms were caused not by a secret high-tech weapon but by the same confluence of psychological and neurological processes — entirely subconscious yet remarkably powerful — underlying hypnosis and the placebo effect. They are disorders, in other words, not of the brain’s hardware but of its software; not of objective injuries to the brain’s structure but of chronic alterations to how the brain functions, typically following exposure to an illness, a physical injury or stress. . . . [Such disorders are] the most misunderstood, debilitating and denigrated ailments known to medicine.”

Nevertheless, the State Department and the diplomats themselves have rejected this theory.

According to the article, one of the leading experts on such disorders is Dr.Mark Hallett, “who is the Chief of the Medical Neurology Branch and the Human Motor Control Section of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health. He  obtained his A.B. and M.D. at Harvard University, had his internship in Medicine at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and his Neurology training at Massachusetts General Hospital plus fellowships in neurophysiology at the NIH and in the Department of Neurology, Institute of Psychiatry in London.”

Last year the National Institutes of Health asked Dr. Hallett to examine the diplomats, but the State Department did not appoint him to the task force for such examinations, and that  Department and NINDS have instructed De. Hallett not to speak with the author of the Times article.

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[1]  Hurley, Was It an Invisible Attack on U.S. diplomats, or Something Stranger?, N.Y. Times (May 15, 2019). This blog has many posts about the issues posed by the medical problems of some U.S. diplomats in Cuba (and more recently in China). See the “U.S. Diplomats’ Medical Problems in Cuba, 2016–??” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

Additional Support for U.S. Needing More Immigrants

 This blog previously has argued that the U.S. needs more immigrants, not fewer.[1] Additional support for that argument is found in recent news about U.S. population data, U.S. low unemployment rate and need for more workers and the examples of some U.S. communities welcoming immigrants.

U.S. Population Data[2]

There are two inter-related sets of U.S. population data that reflect the need for more immigrants: low U.S. native-born birth rate and foreign -born membership in the U.S. work force.

In 2018, the number of babies born in the U.S. was 3.79 million, the lowest in 32 years and the fourth year in a row that this number declined. Similarly the U.S. general fertility rate—the number of births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44—fell to 59.0, the lowest since the start of federal collection of this data. These statistics reflect fewer babies born to teenagers and unmarried women, lower Hispanic fertility rates and the increase in women obtaining college degrees.

Moreover, the total fertility rate—the estimated number of babies a woman would have over her lifetime—has generally been below the “replacement” number of 2.1 since 1971. This could mean (without immigration) a declining overall population and workforce too small to support a growing number of retirees and older people. Such support, of course, includes paying for the Social Security and medical benefits for senior citizens.

This decline in the native-born population has been counter-balanced by increases in the foreign-born who are members of the U.S. labor force. In 2018, there were  27.2 million foreign-born workers, representing 17.5% of the total work force, which is the highest percentage since 1996 when these records were first kept. This segment includes those who now are U.S. citizens, immigrants and those here temporarily. Moreover, the data shows that the foreign-born workers are becoming better educated and more likely to be Asian.

“The top overall reason for people to come to the United States is for employment,” said Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

Shortages of Workers in U.S.[3]

In Minnesota, for example, “factory officials — especially those in rural areas — say severe worker shortages are increasingly impeding their growth and profits. A March survey indicated that nearly 50% of such officials said “their inability to find qualified workers had hurt growth. . . .a rise of 14 percentage points from 2017.“

It is not just Minnesota that is experiencing this situation. The director of a recent survey of the nine-state mid-America region says, “finding and hiring qualified workers remained the chief threat to manufacturing economy for the region. … Of surveyed factory managers, approximately 44.7% identified labor shortages as the greatest threat to company success in the next 12 months.”

A Wall Street Journal editorial makes the same points on a national level. It says that “there is little evidence” for the belief “that lower-skilled immigrants undercut American workers,” but on the contrary “U.S. workers, taxpayers and businesses would benefit from more immigrants of all skill levels.”

This editorial also attacks the concept of  a merit-point immigration system, recently put forward by President Trump. It says that such a system “is vulnerable to political meddling and will discriminate against less-educated strivers who also boost the U.S. economy. Merit systems don’t measure entrepreneurship and would keep out many less-skilled workers who start small businesses like the neighborhood dry cleaner. The plan also doesn’t increase or streamline guest-worker visas, which are crucial to reduce the incentive for illegal immigration.” Moreover, “Low-skilled immigrants are contributing heavily to the nation’s entitlement programs and sustaining Rust Belt communities that otherwise would be losing population. More immigration will be vital to maintaining the “safety net” as the U.S. fertility rate last year fell to a 32-year low.”

U.S. Communities Welcoming Immigrants[4]

 Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist and a Minnesota native, recently visited the city of Willmar, population of 19,610 (2010 census) in the southwestern part of Minnesota. Historically it was a largely white, Lutheran, Scandinavian town.

Now the town’s diversity is seen at its high school, which has  students from 30 countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The languages spoken there include English, Arabic, Somali, Spanish and Karen (the language of  an ethnic group from Myanmar). Visiting the school, Friedman saw “a Benetton ad of races, creeds, colors and clothing.” To assist this mixture the school has “Spanish-speaking and Somali-speaking cultural liaisons [who] work with teachers, students and parents, so families can learn how to advocate for their kids, what the rules are and just how the local culture works.”

The school’s principal, Paul Schmitz, summed up its challenge and mission this way, “Sustainable democracy in the world depends on the United States being a beacon of democracy. And that depends on how well we manage democracy in a pluralistic society.” And that depends on healthy public schools, because “the only shared experience we have any longer in America is through public education.”

Businesses in Willmar have donated money to “create an entrepreneurship program for area schools, through which selected kids begin their day by visiting or working at local businesses. There they have to come up with a business plan for a start-up, get it approved by a local banker, raise or borrow seed money themselves and work on the project instead of attending school for first part of each morning. . . . [One of the] Somali students . . . had started a company that makes short videos!”

Other Willmar collaboration occurs between a local community and technical college (Ridgewater College) and the K-12 schools, the local chamber of commerce, economic development commission and a community foundation. An example of that collaboration is the “Community Integration Center, which some Somali social entrepreneurs opened in 2017 to teach Somalis English and Minnesota culture and to teach Willmarites Somali and Somali culture.”

In short, Friedman discovered a successful community in Willmar because it needed workers to fill jobs, it embraced the immigrants and it has a critical mass of community leaders (business people, educators, philanthropists and social entrepreneurs). As Dana Mortenson, CEO of World Savvy, a global education organization, said, Minnesota towns that are rising are those “that . . .  need a trained work force with a good work ethic and . . . [that embraces] a redefined sense of community.”

More generally in Minnesota immigrants are slowing or halting or reversing population declines in 15 rural Minnesota counties. One such county [next to Willmar] is Stevens County, population of 9,726. Its county seat of Morris (5,286 population) has a large Latino contingent who were drawn here for employment by agribusinesses involved in dairy and beef cattle farming. A professor at the town’s University of Minnesota-Morris started evening  English-language courses for the newcomers that now operates twice a week at five levels of proficiency. This program also raises money to buy English books for the students and hosts events for long-time residents to meet the newcomers. The local library has books and library cards in Spanish. The newcomers organized a soccer tournament in the town.[6]

Conclusion

The objective reasons for wanting more U.S. immigration are clear—we need more workers. We also need younger workers who will help pay for the increasing costs of an aging native population. Rural areas with aging and declining population for their survival need immigrants.

These changes will be immensely aided by communities that welcome change and increasing diversity and develop ways to facilitate the assimilation of new people from different parts of the world with different lagnuages, customs, skin colors  and religions.

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[1]See, e.g.,these posts to dwkcommentaries:  “America’s Farms Need More Immigrants,” (Mar. 22, 2019); Businesses Need More Immigrants (Mar. 24, 2019); Trump Erroneously Says U.S. Is “Full,” (April 9, 2019).

[2]DeBarros, & Adamy, U.S. Births Fall to Lowest Level Since 1980s, W.S.J. (May 15, 2019); Freeman, A Historic Shortage of Americans, W.S.J. (May 15, 2019). 

[3] DePass, Minnesota Manufacturers say worker shortages hurting growth, StarTribune (May 15, 2019); Slaughter, Immigrants for the Heartland, W.S.J. (April 28, 2019); Editorial, Trump’s Immigration Progress, W.S.J. (May 17, 2019).

[4] Friedman, President Trump, Come to Willmar, N.Y. Times (May 14, 2019); Rao, In Minnesota counties losing population, immigrants slow the decline, StarTribune (May 12, 2019).

[5] Friedman’s account of visiting Willmar is reminiscent of his fond reminiscences of growing up in the successful integration of Jewish citizens with the existing Christian community of St. Louis Park, Minnesota and then the current intergraton in his home town of Latinos and Somalis into the exisitng white and African-Ameican population. (See Friedman, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, chs. 12, 13 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2016). See also, Reactions to Tom Friedman’s “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations,” dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 13, 2017).