U.S. State Department’s Recent Actions on U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba

In two press interviews on January 23, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo addressed questions about Cuba.  Earlier in the month an unnamed “Senior Department Official” also had comments about Cuba and two days later the Administration announced new sanctions. Here is a summary of those developments.

Pompeo’s Interview by El Nuevo Herald/Miami Herald [1]

A reporter for el Nuevo  Herald and the Miami Herald asked, “Is the U.S. considering further sanctions against the Cuban Government?  And if so, how can you assure that those measures won’t hurt Cuban families already affected by some restrictions on visa and air traveling?”

Pompeo responded, “It’s always something that we consider very carefully.  We love the Cuban people.  We wish them enormous success.  Indeed, we expend a lot of energy and time to try and help them have that success.  At the same time, the policies of the previous administration were putting lots of money in the pockets of the regime.  The very leaders, the very dictators, the very communists that have repressed the Cuban people for so many decades now were being bolstered and supported by some of the commercial activity that’s taking place.”

“So our mission set has been to do our best not to harm the Cuban people – indeed, just the opposite of that: to create space where there’ll be an opportunity for democracy and freedom and the economy inside of Cuba to flourish while not lining the pockets of the corrupt leadership there.”

Pompeo Interview by WIOD-AM Miami[2]

The radio host, Jimmy Cafalo, asked, “How . . .[do American values] apply to our part of the world here in south Florida, when we are concerned about Venezuela or concerned about Cuba?”

Secretary Pompeo answered, “So President Trump’s been very realistic about how our foreign policy ought to be conducted.  He’s not about nation-building; he’s about protecting the American people.  When we stare at this problem set . . .with these communist regimes in Cuba, in Nicaragua, in Venezuela, America has always been committed to trying to help those people establish democracies to stamp out communism.  We continue that effort.  It’s good for the region, it’s good for the people of those countries, and it’s important to the citizens of south Florida and people all across the United States.”

Another question from Senor Cafalo, “Do you believe we should move closer to Cuba?  I mean, it seems it’s a vacillating element.  With the previous administration, we were moving much closer, and people with families there were going over and back and forth and trading a lot of things.  And now that seems to have just all but shut down.  What’s your take on Cuba?”

The Secretary’s response: “President Trump doesn’t want to see trade taking place with Cuba that is benefiting the regime, benefiting these oppressive communist dictators who are treating their own people so horribly, so terribly.  So our mission set has been to do all that we can to support the people of Cuba, while making sure that money, dollars, trade, all the things that prop up this military, this junta, this set of dictators that have done so much harm to the people of Cuba – you know them so well, they live – so many live in this region.  Our mission set has been to create the conditions where the Cuban people can have the opportunity to throw off the yoke of communism.”

Previous “Senior Department Official” Statement[3]

On January 8, an unnamed “Senior State Department Official” at a Special Briefing at the Department on “2019 Successes in the Western Hemisphere Region,” said the following about Cuba:

  • “The United States will cut off Cuba’s remaining sources of revenue in response to its intervention in Venezuela. We’ve already eliminated visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vehicles. We suspended U.S. air carriers’ authority to operate scheduled air service between the U.S. and all Cuban airports other than Havana. This will further restrict the Cuban regime from using resources to support its repression of the people of Cuba. Countries in the region have also taken action regarding the Cuban Government’s program which traffics thousands of Cuban doctors around the world in order to enrich the regime. Brazil insisted on paying the doctors directly at a fair wage. The Cuban regime in response withdrew the doctors from Brazil. Doctors have also now left Ecuador and Bolivia.”

In response to a journalist’s question about whether the U.S. was planning to close the U.S. Embassy in Havana and to cease all diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Official said the following, ”[As] long as the Cubans keep doing what they’re doing, especially in Venezuela – I mean, we’ve had problems with what they do in Cuba forever, but they’re . . . intervening in another country now. We’ve been pretty clear with them that the pressure on them is going to continue to rise. And we haven’t ruled in or out any specific [actions] I [previously] mentioned some of the measures we’ve already taken; there will be more.”

U.S. Additional Restrictions on U.S. Air Travel to Cuba[4]

Only two days after the Senior Official’s Special Briefing, Secretary Pompeo issued a Press Statement announcing that at his request, “the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) suspended until further notice all public charter flights between the United States and Cuban destinations other than Havana’s José Martí International Airport.  Nine Cuban airports currently receiving U.S. public charter flights will be affected.  Public charter flight operators will have a 60-day wind-down period to discontinue all affected flights.  Also, at my request, DOT will impose an appropriate cap on the number of permitted public charter flights to José Martí International Airport.  DOT will issue an order in the near future proposing procedures for implementing the cap.”

U.S. Embassy in Havana said, “Today’s action will prevent the Cuban regime from benefiVenezuelating from expanded charter service in the wake of the October 25, 2019, action suspending scheduled commercial air service to Cuba’s airports other than Havana.  Today’s action will further restrict the Cuban regime’s ability to obtain revenue, which it uses to finance its ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its unconscionable support for dictator Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.  In suspending public charter flights to these nine Cuban airports, the United States further impedes the Cuban regime from gaining access to hard currency from U.S. travelers.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and other Cuban officials blasted the move, calling it a violation of human rights that would hinder family reunification. As put by his colleague, the foreign ministry’s General Director for U.S. Affairs Carlos Fernandez de Cossio tweeted, this new measure by the U.S. would punish Cubans “on both sides of the Florida Strait.” It also validated the previous prediction by Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel, when he said there “is a turn of the screw every seven days to suffocate our economy.” And Cuba’s Ambassador in Washington, D.C. said the new limitation was imposed to “limit the amount of people that see CUBAN reality by themselves.”

A U.S. voice also criticized this move. Engage Cuba, a nonprofit coalition of private companies and organizations advocating for the end of the U.S. embargo, stated in a tweet, “Just tragic. This is heartbreakingly cruel. Cuban families now cannot travel to see their loved ones.”

Conclusion

All of this is “old news” of the Trump Administration’s repeated desires to increase sanctions against Cuba supposedly to induce Cuba to change many of its policies. Needless to say, that premise is unfounded. Instead, these U.S. measures make life harder for Cubans on the island as well as Cuban-Americans with relatives back home on the island. These U.S. measures also harm the emerging private sector on the island, which presumably should be encouraged by a Republican administration. (In contrast, the Obama Administration from December 2014 until its last days in January 2017, engaged in respectful discussions and negotiations over many issues that had accumulated over the prior 50-plus years and sought to encourage the Cuban private sector. That is the legitimate way to seek to resolve these matters.) [5]

Of special note is the U.S. campaign against Cuba’s foreign medical mission program. Recently Cuba filed a statement with the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland that asserted the program was “committed to the principles of altruism, humanism, and international solidarity, which have guided it for more than 55 years” and that allegations that doctors are forced to participate are “absolutely false. It’s unacceptable to mix Cuba’s medical collaboration with the horrid crime of human trafficking, modern slavery or forced labor.” [6]

It also should be mentioned that this blog repeatedly has denounced the specious rationale for the Trump Administration’s hostility towards Cuba’s foreign medical mission program, especially the allegation that it is engaged in illegal forced labor.[7]  However, recent allegations that some of the individuals on these missions were not health professionals, but instead were engaged in political activities, and that some Cuban doctors were forced to create false patient records are more troublesome. Cuba denies these allegations, but no independent investigation and analysis of these claims has been found by this blogger. [8]

==============================

[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Nora Gomez Torres of El Nuevo Herald and Miami Herald (Jan. 23, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Jimmy Cefalo of South Florida’s First News, WIOD-AM Miami (Jan. 23, 2020).

[3] State Dep’t, Senior State Department Official On State Department 2019 Successes in the Western Hemisphere Region (Jan. 8, 2020).

[4] State Dep’t, United States Further Restricts Air Travel to Cuba (Jan. 10, 2020); Reuters, U.S. Seeks to Squeeze Cuba by Further Curbing Flights to Island, N.Y. Times (Jan. 10, 2020); Finnegan, U.S. further restricts air travel to Cuba to increase pressure, abcNews (Jan. 10, 2020).

[5] See posts listed in the sections on “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba Relations (Normalization)” for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 in the List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[6] Krygien, The U.S. is pushing Latin American allies to send their Cuban doctors packing—and some have, Wash. Post (Jan. 21, 2020).

[7] Here are just two of the posts criticizing the Trump Administration’s campaign against Cuba’s medical mission program:U.S. Unjustified Campaign Against Cuba’s Foreign Medical Mission Program (Sept. 4, 2019); More U.S. Actions Against Cuba (Sept. 30, 2019).

[8] E.g., 80% of what Bolivia paid to Havana for doctors was going to ‘finance castrocomunismo,’ Diario de Cuba (Jan. 22, 2020); Gamez Torres, Bolivia severs relations with Cuba over dispute about controversial medical program, Miami Herlad (Jan. 24, 2020).

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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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