U.S. House Approves Impediments to U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

In early June the U.S. House of Representatives approved two appropriations bills that contain impediments to U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. Both of these sets of impediments are the handiwork of Cuban-American Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL), a fierce opponent of such reconciliation and a member of the House Committee on Appropriations.

Commerce Department Appropriations Act, FY 2016[1]

On June 3, the House, by a vote of 242-183, approved the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill for FY 2016 (H.R. 2578) to fund the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation and other related agencies. The bill contains $51.4 billon in total discretionary funding.

The Committee’s press release about this action said nothing about a provision that prohibits U.S. exports to the Cuban military. That is Section 540 (pp. 97-98 of the 98-page bill), which states as follows:

  • “(a) No funds made available in this Act may be used to facilitate, permit, license, or promote exports to the Cuban military or intelligence service or to any officer of the Cuban military or intelligence service, or an immediate family member thereof.
  • (b) This section does not apply to exports of goods permitted under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7201 et seq.).
  • (c) In this section—(1) the term ‘‘Cuban military or intelligence service’’ includes, but is not limited to, the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, and the Ministry of the Interior, of Cuba, and any subsidiary of either such Ministry; and (2) the term ‘‘immediate family member’’ means a spouse, sibling, son, daughter, parent, grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew.”

Representative Sam Farr (Dem, CA) on June 3 made a motion to delete this provision, but it was defeated, 153-273. He argued that section 540 would apply so broadly with its definitions that it would constrain trade with Cuba. He said, “It hurts American businesses, and it hurts Cubans. Let’s stop living in the past.”

Section 540 and the defeated amendment were prominent in Congressman Diaz-Balart’s press release about the House’s passage of this bill. He said, “I strongly support . . . the provision that prohibits exports to the Cuban military. I firmly opposed the [defeated] amendment which would have stripped that common sense provision.”

The provision (Section 540), Diaz-Balart asserted, “ensures that exports to Cuba accomplish precisely that goal [of U.S. goods reaching the Cuban people].  Certainly the supporting of the Cuban people must not include channeling goods to the Cuban military and intelligence service that oppress them through arbitrary arrests, violence, intimidation, and unjust imprisonments.”

Moreover, according to Diaz-Balart, the Cuban military “engages in illegal weapons smuggling, subverts democratic institutions in Venezuela, and assists foreign terrorist organizations and other rogue regimes such as North Korea.  Furthermore, The Florida Congressman asserts, “several Members of the Cuban military remain under indictment for the murder of innocent U.S. citizens. Exports delivered to the Cuban military will do nothing to benefit the Cuban people, but can only directly fund the oppressive arm of the Castro dictatorship that remains a malevolent actor on the world stage.”

Diaz-Balart’s fellow Cuban-American Republican colleague from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another strong opponent of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, issued a similar statement.

Another provision of the bill (Section 528) prohibits construction or modifying U.S. facilities to accommodate transferred Guantanamo detainees. A motion to delete this provision by Representative Jerry Nadler (Dem., NY) was defeated by a voice vote.

Transportation Department Appropriations Act, FY2016 [2]

The House on June 9, by a 216-210 vote, passed the FY 2016 appropriations bill for the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and related agencies (H.R.2577). According to the House Appropriations Committee, it allocates $55.3 billion targeted at transportation, infrastructure and housing programs of national need and significance.

An earlier post quoted sections 193 and 414 of the bill that barred air or maritime travel to Cuba if they used property that had been expropriated without compensation by the Cuban government.[3]

During a June 4 debate on this bill the House defeated, 176-247, an amendment offered by Representative Barbara Lee (Dem., CA), to delete these two sections that adversely would affect the impact of the new regulations issued by the Department of Commerce this January to expand travel. Lee argued theses provisions were “wrong for diplomacy . . .[and] patently anti-business.”

Another supporter of this amendment was Representative Mark Sanford (Rep., SC), the author of a bill to expand U.S. travel to Cuba (H.R.664), who argued that travel to Cuba should not be equated with supporting the Castro regime.

This Cuba provision is also the work of Representative Diaz-Balart, who said on June 4 that the Obama administration was wrong to lift the travel restrictions, saying that the flights would land at an airport that was partly owned by American interests when it was seized by the Castro government.“What you are saying is, ‘It’s O.K. to do business on property that was stolen from Americans.’ ” However, he added, “supporting the Cuban people does not include . . . facilitating the unlawful use of stolen properties that were illegally confiscated from Americans.”[4]

Diaz-Balart’s fellow Cuban-American Republican colleague from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a similar statement.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, in part because of this Cuba-related provision.

Conclusion

The congressional Republicans apparently have decided to ignore the desires of a majority of the American people and of Cuban-Americans, as demonstrated by numerous public opinion polls, to have improved relations with Cuba and as discussed in posts on February 12 and 17. Instead, the congressional Republicans apparently have hitched their wagon to the hysterical voices of their Cuban-American members. I deplore this defiance of public opinion.

 

The congressional Republicans also apparently have forgotten the 1964 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding Cuba’s expropriation of property, Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino , 376 U.S. 398 (1964). There the court decided that the judicially-created act of state doctrine prevented U.S. courts from adjudicating a claim that the Cuban expropriation violated international law. According to the Court, ”the Judicial Branch will not examine the validity of a taking of property within its own territory by a foreign sovereign government, extant and recognized by this country at the time of suit, in the absence of a treaty or other unambiguous agreement regarding controlling legal principles, even if the complaint alleges that the taking violates customary international law.”[5]

Important to that conclusion in Sabbatino was the Court’s opinion that at least in 1964, “There are few if any issues in international law today on which opinion seems to be so divided as the limitations on a state’s power to expropriate the property of aliens. There is, of course, authority, in international judicial and arbitral decisions, in the expressions of national governments, and among commentators for the view that a taking is improper under international law if it is not for a public purpose, is discriminatory, or is without provision for prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.”

However, according to the Court in Sabbatino, “Communist countries, although they have in fact provided a degree of compensation after diplomatic efforts, commonly recognize no obligation on the part of the taking country. Certain representatives of the newly independent and underdeveloped countries have questioned whether rules of state responsibility toward aliens can bind nations that have not consented to them, and it is argued that the traditionally articulated standards governing expropriation of property reflect ‘imperialist’ interests, and are inappropriate to the circumstances of emergent states. The disagreement as to relevant international law standards reflects an even more basic divergence between the national interests of capital importing and capital exporting nations, and between the social ideologies of those countries that favor state control of a considerable portion of the means of production and those that adhere to a free enterprise system. It is difficult to imagine the courts of this country embarking on adjudication in an area which touches more sensitively the practical and ideological goals of the various members of the community of nations.”

I also deplore the congressional Republican tactic of attaching their out-of-touch Cuba prescriptions to appropriations bills and thereby risking partial government shutdowns if the President vetoes such measures.

The U.S. should be doing all it can to advance the cause of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. Unfortunately the Republicans’ shrill rhetoric about the Cuban expropriation of U.S. property without compensation and its insertion of provisions on the subject into appropriations bills do nothing whatsoever to advance the Administration’s existing efforts to engage Cuba in negotiations about compensation for such expropriation and, if necessary, to litigate such U.S. claims before the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

In the meantime, supporters of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation should urge their Senators to seek to delete the previously mentioned Cuba provisions in these appropriations bills. Senators’ contact information is available on the Internet.

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[1] This section of the post is based upon the following: House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: House Passes Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science Bill (June 3, 2015); H.R.2578: A Bill Making appropriations for the Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science, and Related Agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes (May 27, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., Report on H.R.2578 (No. 114-130) (May 27, 2015); Library of Congress, THOMAS, H.Amdt.308 to H.R.2578 [Farr amendment] (June 3, 2015); Library of Congress, THOMAS, H.Amdt.306 to H.R.2578 [Nadler amendment]; Marcos & Shabad, House passes fourth ’16 appropriations bill, The Hill (June 3, 2015); Marcos, House votes to block exports to Cuban military, The Hill (June 3, 2015); Diaz-Balart, Press Release: U.S. Resources Must Not Be Funneled through Castro’s Regime’s Military and Intelligence Services (June 3, 2015); Ros-Lehtinen, Press Release: House of Reps. Overwhelmingly Votes to Oppose Farr Amendment and Supports Not Doing Business with the Cuban Military and Cuban Intelligence Service (June 3, 2015).

[2] This section of the post is based upon the following: House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: Fiscal Year 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill Passes House (June 9, 2015); Library of Congress, THOMAS, H.R.2577; Library of Congress, THOMAS, H.Amdt.404 to H.R. 2577 [Lee amendment]; Marcos & Shabad, House passes funding for transportation, housing, The Hill (June 9, 2015); Assoc. Press, House GOP Measure Would Cut Amtrak by $242M, N.Y. Times (June 9, 2015); Assoc. Press, G.O.P.-Led House Votes to Keep Curbs on American Travel to Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 4, 2015);Taylor, Republican-Led House votes against easing travel to Cuba, Wash. Post (June 4, 2015); Marcos, House rejects easing Cuba travel restrictions, The Hill (June 4, 2015); Diaz-Balart, Press Release: Historic, Bipartisan Votes in House Reject President Obama’s Policy of Appeasement of the Castro Regime (June 4, 2015); Ros-Lehtinen, Press Release: House of Representatives Stands Up For U.S. Citizens and Defeats Lee Amendment That Would Have Condoned Cuban Trafficking in Confiscated American Property (June 4, 2015).

[3] There also are two pending stand-alone bills (S.1388 and H.R.2466) that would limit U.S.-Cuba reconciliation because of the unresolved U.S. claims for compensation for expropriated property, as discussed in a prior post.

[4] The June 9 Diaz-Balart press release on the House adoption of “the Diaz-Balart bill” was focused on the bill’s prioritization of “the nation’s infrastructure and housing needs.” It also reiterated his trumpeting of the bill’s provisions about Cuba: “The common sense provisions in the bill, which prohibit new flights to Cuba and deny licenses to marine vessels that use property confiscated from Americans, further core American values and safeguard the property rights of Americans.  We must not permit the exploitation of properties stolen by the Castro regime, which is expressly prohibited in U.S. law.”

 

[5] The opinion of the Court in Sabbatino was written by Mr. Justice John Marshall Harlan, II and was joined by Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justices Black, Douglas, Clark, Brennan, Stewart and Goldberg. Mr. Justice White dissented on the ground that the act of state doctrine should not apply and that the U.S. courts should resolve the case on the merits. The Supreme Court’s decision was criticized in Congress, which passed the so-called Second Hickenlooper Amendment (or Sabbatino Amendment) that provided that U.S. courts are not to apply the Act of State Doctrine as a bar against hearing cases of expropriation by a foreign sovereign unless the Executive requests that the courts consider the Act of State Doctrine because foreign policy interests may be damaged by judicial interference. The Amendment was retroactive and subsequently was found constitutional by the district court and the complaint in Sabbatino was dismissed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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