New U.S. Annual Report on Human Rights Around the World

On April 20 the U.S. State Department released its 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.  Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan wrote the Preface to the Reports and made remarks upon their release while a Special Briefing on the Reports was conducted by Ambassador Michael G. Kozak, the head of the Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

These three introductions to the Reports will be discussed below, and a future post will review the report on Cuba.

Preface by Acting Secretary of State Sullivan[1]

“We are a nation founded on the belief that every person is endowed with inalienable rights. Promoting and defending these rights is central to who we are as a country.”

“The 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices . . . document the status of human rights and worker rights in nearly 200 countries and territories. These reports are required by U.S. law and are used by a variety of actors, including the U.S. Congress, the Executive branch, and the Judicial branch as a factual resource for decision-making in matters ranging from assistance to asylum.”

“The 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy recognizes that corrupt and weak governance threatens global stability and U.S. interests. Some governments are unable to maintain security and meet the basic needs of their people, while others are simply unwilling. States that restrict freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly; that allow and commit violence against members of religious, ethnic, and other minority groups; or that undermine the fundamental dignity of persons are morally reprehensible and undermine our interests. The Governments of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, for example, violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis and are forces of instability as a result.”

“Our foreign policy reflects who we are and promotes freedom as a matter of principle and interest. We seek to lead other nations by example in promoting just and effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. The United States will continue to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty.”

Remarks by Acting Secretary of State  Sullivan[2]

The Acting Secretary noted that this was the 42nd year of such reports, which “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.”

“Promoting human rights and the idea that every person has inherent dignity is a core element of this administration’s foreign policy. It also strengthens U.S. national security by fostering greater peace, stability, and prosperity around the world. The Human Rights Reports are the most comprehensive and factual accounting of the global state of human rights. They help our government and others formulate policies and encourage both friends and foes to respect the dignity of all individuals without discrimination.”

“This year, we have sharpened the focus of the report to be more responsive to statutory reporting requirements and more focused on government action or inaction with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights. For example, each executive summary includes a paragraph to note the most egregious abuses that occurred in a particular country, including those against women, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and members of religious minorities.”

Sullivan then had comments about some countries “with the most egregious human rights records:” Syria, Burma, North Korea (DPRK), China, Iran, Turkey, Venezuela and Russia. He concluded by noted three countries with improvements: Uzbekistan, Liberia and Mexico.

Briefing by Ambassador Kozak[3]

Responding to a journalist’s question whether the U.S. issuance of this report could be regarded as hypocrisy because of U.S. human rights problems, the Ambassador said that this would be an unfounded charge. The report criticizes some country’s revoking licenses of media that criticize the government and even killing journalists; the U.S. does not do that. He also said the U.S. has laws to protect foreigners from being returned to countries where they are likely to face illegal persecution.

Nozak rejected the notion that the report was weakened by President Trump’s calling the U.S. press an enemy of the people and suggesting changing U.S. libel laws to protect politicians like him from unfounded reporting. In contrast he said independent journalists in Cuba “are routinely slapped around, they also get called names, “

This year’s report omitted a special section on women’s reproductive rights because it is not a term derived from an international treaty or from the U.S. statute requiring these annual reports; the latter refers to coerced family planning, coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. In addition, the new U.S. report has a hyperlink to a WHO report on the subject.

Kozak rejected the notion that this report was undercut by President Trump’s meetings with leaders of countries with poor human rights records.

The U.S. as a matter of policy supports NGOs around the world  that are working to improve human rights.

For  North Korea, the U.S. is concerned about the nuclear issue and about human rights. The report “pretty starkly [discusses] the kinds of abuses, and over the last year or two, we’ve supported . . . a commission of inquiry on North Korea, we support NGOs that are working on North Korea and exposing the human rights abuses that occur in the camps there and so on. But some of the stories that are contained in the report are just overwhelming. There’s one about 11 people who were arrested for supposedly making a pornographic film and they were executed by shooting anti-artillery weapons at them, and then they brought out tanks and ran over the bodies, and this is supposed to be a civilized country.”

The Preface to the report calls China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as “forces of instability.”  This is not a defined term, but refers to situations where internal actions generate international problems like refugee flows and humanitarian crises.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Preface to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017 (April 20, 2018).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Remarks on the Release of the 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (April 20, 2018).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Briefing on the Release of the 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (April 20, 2018).

The Inauguration of Cuba’s New President, Miguel Díaz-Canel

On April 19, Miguel Diaz-Canel officially became Cuba’s new President of the Councils of State and Ministers. Born after the Revolution in 1960, he grew up in the central province of Villa Clara, about three hours from Havana, the son of a schoolteacher and a factory worker. He studied electrical engineering at the Central University of Las Villas, where he was active in political life. After service in the Cuban military and a civilian mission to Nicaragua, he started work for the Communist Party of Cuba in 1993, and has advanced within the Party and the government to the position of First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers before his inauguration as President.[1]

President Díaz-Canel’s Inaugural Address

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, had the following introduction to the inaugural address: “On the morning of April 19, a historic date . . .  [which saw] the first defeat of Yankee imperialism [at the Bay of Pigs in 1961] . . . [and which now] . . . sees the inauguration of a new [Cuban] government that makes evident the continuity of the new generations with the legacy of the historic generation that founded the Cuban Revolution in the highest leadership positions of the country, compañero Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez,.”[2]

Below is a photograph of Díaz-Canel giving his speech.

Díaz-Canel began by recognizing the leadership of Army General Raúl Castro, the candidate for deputy to have received the most votes in the recent general elections; as well as the Comandante of the Revolution, “who on being in this room offers us the opportunity to embrace history.”

Díaz-Canel “also referred to the ‘dark attempts to destroy us’ of those who have not been able to destroy ‘our faith.’” (Emphasis added.)

With the inauguration of this new legislature, he emphasized, the electoral process comes to its conclusion. “The Cuban people, who have massively participated throughout, are conscious of its historic importance. They have elected their representatives based on their capacity to represent their localities, without media campaigns, corruption or demagoguery. Citizens have elected humble, hard-working people as their genuine representatives, who will participate in the approval and implementation of the country’s policies. This process has contributed to the consolidation of unity in Cuba.”

On the people’s expectations about this government, he stressed that the new Council of State must continue “acting, creating and working tirelessly, in a permanent bond with its dignified people.”

He also added that if anyone wanted to see Cuba in all its composition, it would be enough to look to its National Assembly, with women occupying decisive positions in the state and the government. However, he warned, it does not matter how much we resemble the country we are, if the commitment to the present and the future of Cuba is lacking. The raison d’être of the Councils of State and Ministers is the permanent link with the population.

Díaz-Canel pointed out that during the closing of the last Party Congress [in 2016], Army General Raúl Castro Ruz made it clear that his generation would hand over the flags of the Revolution and Socialism to the younger generations. This emphasizes the importance of the crucial mandate given by the people to this legislature, and as such its work in all areas of the nation’s life must be perfected.

“I assume this responsibility with the conviction that all we revolutionaries, from any trench, will be faithful to Fidel and Raúl, the current leader of the revolutionary process,” the new President of Cuba stated. (Emphasis added.)

He then stressed that the men and women who forged the revolution “give us the keys to a new fraternity that transforms us into compañeros and compañeras,” and highlighted, as another inherited achievement, the unity that has become indestructible within the Cuban Party, that was not born from the fragmentation of others, but from those who intended to build a better country.

For that reason, he said, “Raúl remains at the forefront of the political vanguard. He remains our First Secretary, as the reference that he is for the revolutionary cause, teaching and always ready to confront imperialism, like at the start, with his rifle at the ready in the moment of combat.” (Emphasis added.)

Regarding the revolutionary and political work of the Army General, he highlighted his legacy of resistance and in the search for the continued advancement of the nation. “He put his sense of duty ahead of human pain,” he said in reference to the loss of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro on November 25, 2016.

Likewise, he highlighted Raúl’s grandeur as a statesman, forming a national consensus, and the manner in which he led the implementation process of the country’s social and economic guidelines. He also highlighted how he had made the return of the Five Cuban Heroes [in December 2014] a reality, so longed-for by Fidel.

Raúl has marked Cuba’s international relations with his own spirit: he directed diplomatic relations with the United States; he led the rotating presidency of CELAC; Cuba’s hosting of the Colombian peace talks; and he has been present in all regional and hemispheric summits, always defending Our America. That is the Raúl we know, Díaz-Canel stressed.

The new Cuban President also recalled how the Army General, still very young, participated in the Granma expedition, undertook the struggle in the Sierra Maestra, was promoted to Comandante, and developed government experiences that would be applied in the country after the revolutionary triumph.

I am aware of the concerns and expectations at a moment like this, but I know the strength and wisdom of the people, the leadership of the Party, the ideas of Fidel, the presence of Raúl and Machado, and knowing the popular sentiment, I state before this Assembly that compañero Raúl will head the decisions for the present and future of the nation.” (Emphasis added.)

I confirm that Cuban foreign policy will remain unchanged. Cuba will not accept conditions. The changes that are necessary will continue to be made by the Cuban people.” (Emphasis added.)

He also called for the support of all those who occupy leadership responsibilities at different levels in the nation, but, above all, of the people. “We will have to exercise an increasingly collective leadership. Strengthening the participation of the people.”

“I do not come to promise anything, as the Revolution never has in all these years. I come to fulfill the program that we have implemented with the guidelines of Socialism and the Revolution.” (Emphasis added.)

And as for the enemies of the revolutionary process, he said: “Here there is no space for a transition that ignores or destroys the work of the Revolution. We will continue moving forward without fear and without retreat; without renouncing our sovereignty, independence and development programs.”

“To those who through ignorance or bad faith doubt our commitment, we must tell them that the Revolution continues and will continue. The world has received the wrong message that the Revolution ends with its guerrillas.” (Emphasis added.)

Former President Raúl Castro’s Response

 Immediately after the inaugural address, Raúl Castro, the former President and still the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, closed the second plenary session of the National Assembly of Popular Power [Cuba’s national legislature], with the following remarks:[3] Below is a photograph of Castro during his speech.

Castro recalled the victory of Cuba during the mercenary invasion of Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs]. “That moment was of great importance, especially when Fidel declared the socialist nature of the Revolution, he said.”

“He also pointed out the opportunity of recognizing the work carried out by the electoral commissions and of candidates to all the instances, as well as of the set of institutions that collaborated for the good performance of the elections. He also congratulated the elections of the National Assembly to the State Council of the country.”

Castro  “said that Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez had worked as an engineer, and his work as an officer of the FAR. Then he was proposed as a professional cadre of the Union of Young Communists, from where he gradually rose to achieve his promotion as a Professional Party cadre.”

He pointed out that Díaz-Canel, during the [most acute phase of the] Special Period “was a member of the Provincial Party Committee in Villa Clara, where he spent nine years. Then he spent six years in Holguín. “He was born in Villa Clara, where he was quiet, because it was a territory he knew well; and it was after that that he was sent to one of the great provinces of the east, Holguin, as we did with more than a dozen young people, most of whom came to the Political Bureau, but who failed to be promoted. He was the only survivor.

Castro also stressed that Díaz-Canel had been a member of the Central Committee since 1991 and was promoted to the Political Bureau 15 years ago. He fulfilled a mission in Nicaragua and graduated from the National Defense College. In 2009 he was appointed Minister of Education. Five years ago he was elected First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers; and since then “a group of members of the Political Bureau had the feeling that we had hit the nail on the head,” referring to Díaz’s ability to assume the presidency. He was responsible in the ideological sphere of the Central Committee of the Party.

Raul pointed out that the election of Diaz-Canel is not a coincidence “because of his preparation he is the best and we know that because of his dedication he will have absolute success in the task entrusted to him by our supreme body of ‘Popular Power.” (Emphasis added.)

Comrade Díaz-Canel over the years he has demonstrated work capacity, ideological solidity and commitment to the Revolution.

The National Assembly of Popular Power has 42% new members and a female representation of 48.4%. Castro emphasized that women, young people and people of color occupy decision-making positions in the life of the nation.

“It is up to the Party, the State and the Government to fulfill and enforce, with due intentionality, the promotion of young people, women and mestizos, to posts that guarantee the renewal of the revolution.

He welcomed the ratification of the presidency of the National Assembly, and the proposal of Diaz-Canel, as allowed by the Constitution, so that the Council of Ministers will be made known at the next session of the Assembly, which will take place in July, because that it will allow for a prudent time for the movements of paintings to be made.

I will continue to serve as Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the PCC, in what is my second and last mandate, which ends in 2021, when we will complete the transfer to the new generations. From then on, I will be one more soldier with the people defending this Revolution. So that there is not the slightest doubt, I want to emphasize that the PCC, in the figure of its First Secretary, will continue supporting the [new] president.” (Emphases added.)

Regarding the new generations, he warned that one of the permanent bets of the enemy is to penetrate, confuse and alienate youth from the ideals of the work and the revolutionary culture leading them instead towards disengagement towards ethics, solidarity and the sense of duty.

Castro said that in the next constitution there will be no changes in the strategic objective of the Party, which our people will support as in 1976, when Cubans voted in favor of the current constitution with 98% support.

He pointed out that in the Plenary Session of the Central Committee held in March of this year, the economic and social status of the nation was analyzed. The new constitution has lagged behind us, he clarified, because the country’s main problems are not resolved, because the participation of the organisms from the base was not achieved for the adequate implementation of the adopted policies.

We never had any illusions that it would be a short and easy process, because its dimensions reached all sectors of society, and we had to overcome egalitarianism and its negative consequences in the national economy, he added.

In the case of the socioeconomic context of the nation, Castro assured that the experiment of the non-agricultural cooperatives will continue and with respect to the monetary duality he said that he continues to give serious headaches, as well as the need for wage reform. He also emphasized the need for a coherent communication policy. (Emphasis added.)

He also recalled the difficult circumstances in which the country’s economy had to develop, and the considerable damages caused by the intense drought of the last 3 years and the recent hurricanes that affected most of the country. (Emphasis added.)

With regard to foreign debt, he stressed that a renegotiation has been carried out, which has helped to free the new generations of a sword of Damocles and the consequent restitution of the credit prestige of the country. The Army General congratulated the Minister of Economy, Ricardo Cabrisas, on his performance in that process.

He also made a call to save resources, claiming that we usually ask for too much, so we have to plan better.

“Defend unity, resist and resist, that is the duty of revolutionaries,” he said.

Regarding foreign policy issues, said the recent Summit of the Americas  was marked by the neo-hegemonic attitude of the United States, whose commitment to the Monroe Doctrine was ratified, especially with the exclusion of Venezuela from that international event. (Emphasis added.)

It was known that they would set up a show, and Cuba went to Lima with its own right and its head high, which confirms the determination of the Cubans to defend their principles and their values. The Cuban delegation, together with that of Bolivia and other countries, prevented a single front against Venezuela. The interventions of our foreign minister, on behalf of the government and Cuban people, constituted a worthy response against the contents of the interventionist speech of the Vice President of the United States, Raul said. (Emphasis added.)

“The members of civil society defended the voice of Cuba and the peoples of America with vigor. I take this opportunity to congratulate all the members of the Cuban delegation that participated in this event, “he said.

The Army General stressed Cuba’s commitment to ALBA because we are the world’s region of greatest inequality in the distribution of wealth, and the gap between rich and poor is huge and growing despite the efforts made in the past decades, when Progressive governments pushed for policies to mitigate this evil, he said.

He rejected accusations of human rights violations in Cuba. He highlighted diplomatic relations with the European Union and the progress of ties with China. (Emphasis added.)

“In just 11 days our people will march together united by our streets and squares commemorating the International Labor Day and showing the majority support of the Cubans to the Party and its Revolution.

Conclusion

As anticipated, these comments by Díaz-Canel and Castro demonstrate a collective intention to continue Cuba’s current direction, domestically and internationally. Their mutual admiration is shown in the photograph below.

In another post we will look at U.S. reaction to the change in Cuba leadership. Some of that reaction was recorded before the actual inaugural of Díaz-Canel.

 

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[1] Ahmed & Robles, Who Is Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s New President? N.Y. Times (April 19, 2018); Cordoba, After 59 Years, a Castro Is No Longer Official Leader of Cuba, W.S.J. (April 19, 2018).

[2] Miguel Díaz-Canel: I assume this responsibility with the conviction that all the revolutionaries will be faithful to Fidel and Raúl (+Video), Granma (April 19, 2018).

[3] Raúl Castro: The Communist Party will continue to support the new President, Granma (April 19, 2018).

 

U.S.-Cuba Skirmishes at the Summit of the Americas

The confrontation of Presidents Donald Trump and Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Peru, as anticipated in a prior post, did not happen. Each of them cancelled his trip to the Summit. Instead Cuba sent its Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, while the U.S. sent Vice President Mike Pence, and the two of them exchanged verbal insults. The Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, also leveled criticism at Cuba.

OAS Secretary General[1]

On April 13, the OAS Secretary said the governments at the Summit “cannot allow the Cuban people to continue to be oppressed by an infamous dictatorship, a dictatorship that carries the weight of decades of human rights violations … tortures and executions. We have to be faithful to fundamental ethical values. Indifference in the face of dictatorship is to break the fundamental ethical values of policy.”

Cuba since 1962 has been suspended from the OAS. Nevertheless, “the resolutions of the OAS still apply to Cuba because it is still part of the Inter-American system. A suspension does not spare it from having to meet its responsibilities. That’s why we demand democracy for Cuba and the application of the Inter American Democratic Charter.”

The Secretary General also urged those at the Summit to “continue to put pressure on the regime. Let’s not recognize the [Cuban] rules for succession that the dictatorship wants to impose on its people.” This was an endorsement of the call earlier in the week by about 30 former heads of state and government from Spain and Latin America who urged the governments at the Lima summit to refuse to recognize the new Cuba government that is scheduled to be appointed April 18 or 19.

Almagro also condemned the Cuban delegation in Lima for an outburst of screams and slogans on Thursday that forced him and civil society activists to move a meeting to a closed-off hall. The Cuban delegates shouted “liar” at Almagro and “down with the worms” at the Cuban opposition activists in the room. “Today we had a very clear example of the levels of intolerance and how they want to silence the voice of dissidents in Cuba,” said the OAS secretary general. “They brought intolerance to our system, brought the voice of hatred, the voice that certainly tries to drown other voices. They have tried to dismantle our own democracy, the functioning of the Summit of the Americas. And that we cannot allow,” Almagro said. “And we cannot allow that in Cuba. It would not be ethical.”

Foreign Minster Rodriguez[2]

 On April 14, Cuba Foreign Minister Rodríguez addressed the Summit. “Our America, . . ., united by a common destiny in the search for its second and definitive independence, continues being sacked, intervened and vilified by the North American imperialism that invokes the Monroe Doctrine[3] for exercise of domination and hegemony over our peoples.”

“It is a story of wars of conquest, dispossession of territories, invasions and military occupations, coups d’état and imposition of bloody dictatorships that assassinated, disappeared and tortured in the name of freedom; of rapacious plundering of our resources.

Today there is the danger of a return to the use of force, the indiscriminate imposition of unilateral coercive measures and bloody military coups.”

He continued, “Our America, with its cultures and history, the territory, the population and its resources can develop and contribute to the balance of the world, but it is the region with the most unequal distribution of income on the planet.”

The richest 10 percent amass 71 percent of the wealth and, in two years, one percent of the population would have more than the remaining 99 percent. It lacks equitable access to education, health, employment, sanitation, electricity and drinking water.”

“We will only advance through regional integration and the development of unity within the diversity that led to the creation of CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States].”

“Recent events show that the OAS and its hysterical Secretary General are instruments of the United States.”

“Now, the objective is to reestablish imperialist domination, destroy national sovereignties with unconventional interventions, overthrow popular governments, reverse social conquests and restore, on a continental scale, wild neoliberalism. For this, the fight against corruption is used as a political weapon; prosecutors and judges act as ‘political parties’ and voters are prevented from voting for candidates with strong popular support, as is the case of the President, political prisoner, Luiz Inacio “Lula’ Da Silva whose freedom we demand.”

“It is hidden that corruption prevails among conservative politicians, parliamentarians and politicians and in electoral systems, in corrupt laws and political models, by nature, based on money, on corporate ‘special interests.’”

“People are manipulated from private monopolistic property on media and technological platforms. In electoral campaigns, there are no ethical limits: hate, division, selfishness, slander, racism, xenophobia and lies are promoted; neo-fascist tendencies proliferate and walls are promised, militarization of borders, massive deportations, even of children born in the territory itself.”

“In the hemisphere, massive, flagrant and systematic violations of civil and political human rights are increasing; and economic, social and cultural rights of hundreds of millions of human beings.”

What democracy and values ​​are spoken of here? Of those of President Lincoln or the “dream” of Martin Luther King , that would elevate the American people to whom indissoluble bonds unite us ?, Or of those of Cutting and of the supposed “anti-system” extremist conservative?

“Cuba will not accept threats or blackmail from the government of the United States. We do not want confrontation, but we will not negotiate anything of our internal affairs, nor will we yield a millimeter in our principles. In defense of independence, the Revolution and Socialism, the Cuban people have shed their blood, assumed extraordinary sacrifices and the greatest risks.”

“The progress made in recent years [2014-2016], based on absolute sovereign equality and mutual respect, which are now reversed; They showed tangible results and that civilized coexistence, within the deep differences between governments, is possible and beneficial for both.”

“The [U.S.] blockade [embargo] and financial persecution harden, cause deprivation to our people and violate human rights, but the isolation of the US government throughout the world, in American society itself and in Cuban emigration also grows with respect to that genocidal policy, obsolete and unsuccessful.”

“The international rejection of the occupation of our territory in Guantánamo by the Naval Base and the detention and torture center located in it increases equally. [The U.S.] suffers total discredit [of] the pretext to reduce the staff of the Embassies and affect the right to travel of Cubans and Americans.”

“Next April 19, in the year 150 of our independence fights, with the constitution of a new National Assembly of the Popular Power will culminate the general elections. Cubans and Cubans, especially the youngest, closely linked to the Party of the nation, founded by Martí and Fidel; together with Raúl, we will commemorate the victory against the mercenary aggression of Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs], firm, confident and optimistic.”

Vice President Pence[4]

 On April 14, as the last scheduled speaker at the Summit, Vice President Mike Pence touched on many issues. He said the following about Cuba.

A ”tired communist regime continues to impoverish its people and deny their most fundamental rights in Cuba.  The Castro regime has systematically sapped the wealth of a great nation and stolen the lives of a proud people.  Our administration has taken decisive action to stand with the Cuban people, and stand up to their oppressors.”

“No longer will the United States fund Cuba’s military, security and intelligence services — the core of that despotic regime.  And the United States will continue to support the Cuban people as they stand and call for freedom.”

“But Cuba’s dictatorship has not only beset its own people, as we all well know — with few exceptions in this room acknowledging that.  Cuba’s dictators have also sought to export their failed ideology across the wider region.  And as we speak, they are aiding and abetting the corrupt dictatorship in Venezuela.”

Earlier Vice President Pence met with  Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, who told him about Cuba Decide, a movement that promotes political change in Cuba through peaceful mobilization and the holding of a binding plebiscite whereby the Cuban people would decide their political system. Payá said, “What the Cuban people want is freedom, what the Cuban people want is to decide on another system.” Pence told her that he admires “enormously the courage” that her father had, “his commitment to freedom in Cuba” and her “courage” with her current “important work. ‘We are with you for the freedom of the Cuban people,’

Reply by Cuba Foreign Minister[5]

Invoking the right of reply, Cuba Foreign Minister Rodríguez had these additional comments on April 14.

“The Vice President of the [U.S.] seems ill-informed, ignores reality, hides the truth. I want to ask Mr. Pence directly if the Monroe Doctrine guides his government or not, in his policy toward Latin America. I want to respond with words from Bolívar: ‘The United States seems destined by Providence to plague America with miseries in the name of freedom.’ I want to quote Marti: ‘What I did up to now, and I will do, is to prevent the United States from spreading through the Antilles and falling with that force more on the lands of America.’”

“I reject the insulting references to Cuba and Venezuela and the humiliating attitude for Latin America and the Caribbean that [the U.S.] has assumed. The moral vacuum of the government of the [U.S.] cannot be, it is not a reference for Latin America and the Caribbean.”

“In the last 100 years they bear the responsibility for the most brutal abuses against human rights and human dignity. All the despotic governments in the region, all without exception, have been imposed or have received support from the government of the [U.S.], including the most cruel military dictatorships. Shameful acts like Operation Condor[6] or the bloody coup d’état in Chile[7] are about the conscience of North American governments.”

“Mr. Pence’s country has been the first and the only one to use the nuclear weapon against innocent civilians. It is responsible for criminal wars and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of deaths, massacres of civilians, including children, women and the elderly, which they call collateral damage. It is responsible for acts of torture, disappearances, extrajudicial executions and kidnappings.”

“The government of the [U.S.] is the author of massive, flagrant and systematic violations of the human rights of its own African-American citizens, of Hispanics, of migrants and of minorities. It is a shame for humanity that in this country of extreme wealth there are tens and tens of millions of poor people. They have a differentiated racial pattern in their prisons and the application of the death penalty is where most judicial errors associated with the execution of people occur; It is where students are killed by guns, whose lives were sacrificed to the imperative of political lobbying, particularly in Florida”

“The government of the [U.S.] has received tens and tens of millions of dollars from the arms lobby, and a Miami senator [Marco Rubio] has received no less than 3 million for the same concept. Miami is where the political mafias are, where confessed international terrorists take refuge and is also the place of the famous electoral fraud of the year 2000.”

“Mr. Pence has not said, when he talks about corruption, that his country is the center of the laundering of financial assets of drug trafficking and the smuggling of arms to the south that destabilizes entire countries. The electoral system that has elected him and the legislature, in which he has served for a long time, is corrupt by nature, because it is supported in an unusually legal way in corporate financial contributions and the so-called Political Action Committees.”

“It is the [U.S.] government that imposes a fierce protectionism, which does not take into account that it will ruin industry, agriculture and employment throughout our region. It is where the political lobby has imposed the idea that climate change is an anti-American invention. It is the political and electoral system where there has been scandalous traffic with the private data of tens of millions of its citizens.”

“If [the U.S.] government were interested in the well-being, human rights and self-determination of Cubans, it could lift the blockade, collaborate with our international cooperation, instead of sabotaging it, and give funds to Cuban medical collaboration programs in the world and literacy programs.”

Mr. Pence “has referred insultingly to Cuba. I respond with the text of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed in Havana by the Heads of State of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2014, whose principles include the inalienable right of peoples and States to freely give their own political, economic, social and cultural system.”  I also respond with a paragraph of the historical document signed at the time of this event, at the José Martí International Airport in Havana, by His Holiness Pope Francis and by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill . . .:’Our fraternal encounter has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads between North and South, East and West. From this island, symbol of the hopes of the New World and of the dramatic events of 20th century history … ‘”

“We are a few hours away from the 57th anniversary of the [Bay of Pigs] bombing of US planes at airports in Cuba, in which Cubans died in defense of our independence and sovereignty, in whose farewell to duel the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution was proclaimed, and It is surprising that, f[after] so many decades, Vice President Pence has come here to use the same language that led governments of that time to carry out this terrible event.”

“The events that have taken place in recent years [2014-2016] show that coexistence between the United States and Cuba is possible, productive and can be civilized. For that, do not wait for him, nor the delegation that now occupies the seat that he has just left, for Cuba to give up one millimeter of its principles, nor cease in its efforts to build socialism.”

Conclusion

Unfortunately these verbal skirmishes are to be expected in the Age of Trump at gatherings like the Summit. Now we all will see whether this week’s election of Cuba’s new President of the Council of State will lead to any changes in at least the rhetoric between the two countries. Also unfortunately most observers, including this blogger, do not anticipate any immediate changes.

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[1] Torres, OAS secretary general: ‘We cannot allow the Cuban people to continue to be oppressed,’ Miami Herald (April 13, 2018).

[2] Bruno Rodríguez at Summit of the Americas: “Cuba will not accept threats or blackmail from the United States, CubaDebate (April 14, 2018).

[3]  Then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on February 1,  2018, in response to a professor’s question said that U.S. citizens had “forgotten about the importance of the Monroe Doctrine and what it meant to this hemisphere and maintaining those shared values. So I think it’s as relevant today as it was the day it was written.” (See Secretary Tillerson’s Provocative Comments About Latin America, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 7, 2018).)

[4] White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at First Plenary Session of the Summit of the Americas (April 15, 2018); Mike Pence to Rosa María Payá: ‘We are with you for the freedom of the Cuba people,’ Diario de Cuba (April 14, 2018).

[5] Cuban foreign Minister: the US government cannot be a reference for Latin America, CubaDebate (April 15, 2018); The Cuban regime repeats its script in Lima: it says that “it will not negotiate anything or yield a millimeter, Diario de Cuba (April 14, 2018).

[6] Operation Condor was  campaign of political repression and state terror in Latin American countries involving intelligence operations and assassination of opponents, mainly civilians, originally planned by the CIA in 1968 and officially implemented in 1975 by the right-wing dictatorships of the Southern Cone region of South America.(Operation Condor, Wikipedia.)

[7] In 1973 Chili’s military deposed its President Salvador Allende and his government. In 2000 the U.S. Intelligence Community released a report that stated, “Although CIA did not instigate the coup that ended Allende’s government on 11 September 1973, it was aware of coup-plotting by the military, had ongoing intelligence collection relationships with some plotters, and—because CIA did not discourage the takeover and had sought to instigate a coup in 1970—probably appeared to condone it.” (1973 Chilean coup d’état, Wikipedia.)

 

U.S. Needs More Immigrants

With longer life expectancy, increasing numbers of baby-boomer retirements from the active labor force and  a low birth rate that now is lower than the death rate, the U.S. increasingly faces the need to find more workers. The source is obvious: more immigrants.[1]

Barron’s Article[2]

A noted business publication, Barron’s, put it this way, “Across the nation, in industries as varied as trucking, construction, retailing, fast food, oil drilling, technology, and manufacturing, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find good help. And with the economy in its ninth year of growth and another baby boomer retiring every nine seconds, the labor crunch is about to get much worse.”

“Census Bureau projections show the overall U.S. population, a rough proxy for the country’s demand for goods and services, growing faster than the workforce— which supplies those goods and services— through 2030 and probably beyond. From 2017 to 2027, the nation faces a shortage of 8.2 million workers, according to Thomas Lee, head of research at Fundstrat Global Advisors.”

Another restriction on labor supply is the “people [who] have dropped out of the workforce, owing to factors such as disability, opioid addiction, and prison records that make it hard to snare jobs. The labor force participation rate, which measures the percentage of the adult population that’s working or actively seeking employment, has dropped to 63% from 67% in 2000.”

Washington Post Editorial[3]

A Washington Post editorial opens with this statement: “American employers in an array of industries — manufacturing, agriculture, trucking, home building, energy, food service, retail and others — are warning that a long-brewing labor shortage is reaching crisis proportions.”

While the U.S. needs more skilled and English language-proficient immigrants, the editorial continues, “employers in food processing, retail, landscaping and other industries that rely on low-skilled labor are already desperate for workers.”

“By driving away legal and illegal immigrants even as unemployment flatlines and baby boomers retire, [President Trump] deprives businesses of oxygen in the form of labor. That’s not a recipe for making America great.”

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[1]  The above demographic challenges are not just U.S. problems. See World Faces Demographic Challenges, dwkcommentaries.com (April 3, 2018).

[2] The Great Labor Crunch, Barron’s (Mar. 10, 2018).

[3] Editorial, America needs more workers. Trump’s war on immigration won’t help, Wash. Post (April 8, 2018).

U.S. and Cuba Continue To Cooperate on Agriculture 

Quietly the U.S. and Cuba are continuing to hold bilateral meetings on various topics. Recently, for example, the meetings have covered cybersecurity, drug trafficking, terrorism, irregular immigration and money laundering.[1]

The latest, on April 10 and 11,  in Washington, D.C. was on the subject of agriculture.[2]

This meeting provided the opportunity to review the state of the implementation of the countries’ Framework Memorandum of Understanding on Agriculture and the Memorandum of Understanding on Animal and Plant Health. In particularly, both parties reviewed the compliance with the activities previously agreed upon, and analyzed the new actions proposed and other initiatives to give continuance to the technical exchanges.

This bilateral cooperation benefits both Cuban and U.S. farmers and helps promote the sustainability and development of agriculture, which are related to organic agriculture, soil management, water conservation, the prevention and treatment of plant pests and animal diseases, as well as to the actions for organic certification and seeds, among others.

The Cuban delegation was led by Moraima Céspedes Morales, Director for International Affairs at the Ministry of Agriculture, and composed of other officials of the ministries of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs. The U.S. delegation was led by John P. Passino, Director for Western Hemisphere at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and composed of other officials of that agency and of the Department of State.

The meeting was held in an ambiance of respect and professionalism. Both delegations shared the view to underscore the importance of maintaining the bilateral cooperation in these topics.

Conclusion

It is refreshing to know that the U.S. and Cuba are continuing to hold meetings on various subjects of mutual interest despite all the hostile rhetoric from the U.S.

At the same time it is disappointing that there was no mention of this latest meeting on the websites of the U.S. Departments of State or Agriculture or in the U.S. major news media.

However, on April 5, U.S. Senator John Boozman (Rep., AR) addressed the subject of U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba in a short article that stated the following: “United States’ producers are unable to fully tap into the Cuban market because federal law prohibits private financing for agricultural trade with Cuba. This misguided policy creates a major roadblock to trade. That’s why Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and I introduced the Agriculture Export Expansion Act to lift the ban on private banks and companies offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba. It’s a small step that would help level the playing field for farmers and exporters, while simultaneously exposing Cubans to American ideals, values and products. A true win-win for American farmers and the Cuban people.”[3]

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[1]  This blog has commented on these bilateral meetings. E.g., Cuba and U.S. Continue To Hold Bilateral Meetings on Various Issues (Jan. 18, 2018).

[2]  Cuba Foreign Ministry, Representatives from Cuba and the United States talk about cooperation in agriculture (April 11, 2018); Cuba Embassy in U.S., Representatives from Cuba and the United States talk about cooperation in agriculture (April 11, 2018); Cuba and the United States exchange on cooperation in agriculture, Granma (April 12, 2018); Washington and Havana talk about agriculture in a new technical meeting, Diario de Cuba (April 12, 2018).

[3] Boozman, Time to expand U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba, WashingtonDC100 (April 5, 2018).

Developments Regarding the Summit of the Americas 

Later this week the Summit of the Americans takes place in Lima, Peru. Interesting  developments regarding the Summit have taken place from the U.S. and Cuba.

U.S. Developments[1]

On April 10 President Trump cancelled his scheduled attendance at the Summit of the Americans in Peru. The stated reason was his need to attend to the new crisis in Syria: the Syrian regime chemical weapons attack on some of its citizens and President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. was considering a military response.

The New York Times reporter, Julie Davis, said, “Scrapping the trip spared Mr. Trump potentially unpleasant interactions with leaders of Latin American nations whose citizens have been insulted by his harsh language about their countries as sources of illegal immigration, criminal gangs and illicit narcotics. White House officials said Vice President Mike Pence would attend the summit meeting in the president’s place.

“Skipping the Summit of the Americas sends a terrible message about U.S. disengagement in our hemisphere, compounding negative message of Trump’s Cuba, NAFTA and immigration policies,” was the opinion of Benjamin J. Rhodes, who served as a deputy national security adviser in Mr. Obama’s White House and who was the principal negotiator of the U.S.’ opening to Cuba in December 2014.

A similar opinion was voiced by Richard E. Feinberg, a senior Latin America fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy. He said, “Trump’s dropping out of the Lima summit is an appalling demonstration of disrespect for Latin America. “This has to be seen in the context of a president who has been ranting and railing against Latin America continually for the last several years. They’re his bête noire. They’re his scapegoat for everything that’s wrong in America, from immigration to narcotics to alleged loss of jobs from trade.”

A more nuanced opinion was offered by Christopher Sabatini, executive director of Global Americans, a group promoting better engagement in the region. He said,  “The truth is, given the level of discourse on trade, immigrants and intervention coming from this administration, not paying much attention to the region may be welcome by a number of governments as they search for their own alternatives. The question though is what it means for U.S. leadership, not just now but over the long term.”

The region’s leaders  seemed to be taking the U.S. decision in stride, reflecting some of the unease generated by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and growing economic self-confidence in a region long resentful of Washington’s dominance.

The U.S. State Department announced that Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan will accompany Vice President Mike Pence at the Summit, where the U.S. “will promote priorities of mutual interest to the region, including supporting democracy; addressing the political and humanitarian crisis and restoring democracy in Venezuela; stemming corruption and transnational crime, and promoting economic prosperity.” Sullivan will meet separately with leaders from Peru, Brazil, Haiti, Mexico, Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The State Department noted that Sullivan “will also engage with members of Cuban and Venezuelan independent civil society.” Apparently he will avoid meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro.

In another release the Department said it had “received numerous, credible reports that the Cuban government prevented, and continues to prevent, members of independent civil society from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit . . . .  Cuban authorities prevented these individuals’ travel through arbitrary stops at the airport, short-term detentions, and visits to individuals’ homes to warn them against trying to leave the island.”

The Department’s release further stated that the U.S. “condemns these actions. We call on the Cuban government to facilitate full, robust participation in the Summit by allowing the free and unrestricted travel of its citizens, a universal human right.” As a result, the U.S. “stands with the brave activists facing repression by the Cuban regime. We are working with the Government of Peru and civil society to promote a Summit that features open, inclusive dialogue with the full participation of independent civil society representatives from Cuba and the hemisphere.”

At the Press Briefing the same day, the Department said that on April 12 Sullivan would be meeting with “with Cuban NGOs and opposition leaders,” but there was no meeting scheduled with Castro.

Cuba Developments[2]

Cuba has an official delegation of people from its purported civil society, who already are in Peru to attend the alternative Peoples Summit that has been organized by Peru’s General Confederation of Workers (CGTP). Its leader said it would express “support for the Cuban Revolution and reaffirm the commitment to progressive and left governments of Latin America and the Caribbean currently being ‘sabotaged by imperialism.”’ On April 12 they have planned an anti-imperialist rally called “Trump out of Peru,” but with Trump not coming, they will have to have a different theme.

The official Cuba delegation of civil society has criticized “attempts by mercenaries and groups with links to terrorists to pass for supposed representatives of Cuban civil society.” The official delegation’s official statement expressed their desire “to contribute the experience of the Cuban Revolution that has, over almost 60 years, constructed a consensus in favor of our political, economic, and social system, forged through participative, socialist democracy, in which human beings constitutes the highest priority, and in which government is exercised by the people.”

These Cubans vandalized a Lima billboard that said in Spanish (here in English translation): “Cuba, enough of corruption, repression and impunity, stop human rights violations.”

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[1]  Davis, Trump Cancels Trip to Latin America, Citing Crisis in Syria, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2018); Assoc. Press, Latin America Takes Trump’s Forgoing of Summit in Stride, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Acting Secretary Sullivan Travel to Lima, Peru, To Participate in the Summit of the Americas (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, On Cuba’s Restriction of Civil Society Participation in the Summit of the Americans (April 10, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-April 10, 2018.

[2] Gómez, People’s Summit kicks off in Lima, Granma (April 10, 2018); Statement from Cuban delegation to 8th Summit of the Americas parallel forums, Granma (April 9, 2018); ‘Shock troops’ of the Cuban regime in Lima vandalize the fences that denounced the repression, diario de Cuba (April 11, 2018); “CUBA in #Cumbre”, Cuba Debate.

 

The New York Central Railroad’s 1907 Woodlawn Crash

In the midst of the national political debate over railroad freight rates of 1907, the New York Central Railroad and William C. Brown, its Senior Vice President and my great-great uncle, had to confront the tragic human, legal, financial, political and public relations problems presented by the February 16, 1907, crash of one of its trains in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx. The train with one of the new type of engines (electrical) left the tracks, killing 24 people and injuring another 143.[1]

Remember that this occurred during the construction of the Grand Central Terminal in midtown Manhattan, which would require the replacement of steam-powered locomotives with electric-powered ones that previously had not been designed, manufactured and used. [2]

The Central’s Chief Engineer, William J. Wilgus, was in charge of designing the new electric engines, and General Electric Company was manufacturing them. The initial test run in September 1906 had been successful.

If the new engines were outlawed, the Railroad faced financial ruin. If the Railroad were deemed to be negligent in any way, that too presented many problems. For example, an assistant district attorney called for an investigation of the Central’s executives for possible indictment for manslaughter.[3]

Dr. Kurt C. Schlichting’s Hypotheses Regarding the Crash

Some of the documents about the Crash have been analyzed by Dr. Kurt C. Schlichting, the holder of the E. Gerald Corrigan Endowed Chair in the Humanities and Social Sciences and a professor of sociology and anthropology at Fairfield University (Fairfield, CT). Here are his conclusions from that investigation:[4]

  • In testimony before the New York State Railroad Commission, the Central’s President, William H. Newman, and Senior Vice President, William Carlos Brown, testified that the fault was Wilgus’ design of the engines.
  • Wilgus, however, proud of his design work and his professional reputation, strenuously disagreed with this assessment. Therefore, Wilgus did his own investigation and concluded that the cause of the wreck was a track defect at the point of the wreck and a widening (or “nosing”) of the track due to the heavier weight of the electric engines. This would make the Central’s Operating Division liable.
  • Wilgus thought Newman and Brown agreed with him, but Brown in an April 1907 memo told Wilgus that the engine design by Wilgus was flawed and thus the cause of the wreck.
  • In response Wilgus prepared an April 9th detailed report defending the design and instead arguing that the cause was a spreading of the track (nosing) due to the extra weight of the engine. This was seen as a “time bomb” for the Central and its top executives for liability for putting the new engine into service without adequate testing and for possible perjury in their testimony to the Commission.
  • On April 12th, the Central’s vice president and chief general counsel, Ira Place, visited Wilgus and explained how his memo would damage the Railroad and that Newman and Brown could go to jail if the report were made public. Therefore, Place instructed Wilgus to burn the report, and Wilgus agreed to do so.
  • The Central’s lawyer delivered the same message to Newman and Brown, and they obeyed the instruction and destroyed the report.
  • Under the direction of Brown, the Railroad then proceeded to made significant changes to the design of the engines without Wilgus’ knowledge and consent. Wilgus felt double-crossed and told the Central’s lawyer that he had re-created the report.
  • Wilgus put a copy of the re-created report in a box of records given to the New York Public Library with instructions that it was not to be opened without his permission until after his death.
  • This collection of papers also included testimonial letters about Wilgus from J. P. Morgan, William K. Vanderbilt, Ira Place and W.C. Brown. A letter by Brown before the crash, for example, stated, “The great work undertaken and practically completed by you, of changing the power within the so-called electric zone and the reconstruction of Grand Central Station, was the most stupendous work of engineering I have ever known; and it has gone forward practically without a halt, certainly without a failure in any essential feature.”
  • Wilgus resigned from the Railroad on September 20, 1907.
  • No criminal charges were ever brought against the Railroad or any of its executives regarding the Woodlawn Wreck.

 Reaction to Schlichting’s Analysis

I have not seen or reviewed the documents that Dr. Schlichting has and I am not an engineer. Thus, I am not in a position, as Mr. Brown’s descendant, to refute the above analysis. But I do have the following points:

  1. Wilgus was out to protect his professional reputation as an engineer and thus has an interest in casting blame elsewhere. Moreover, he was never subjected to cross-examination on his criticisms of Mr. Brown and the others.
  2. According to Schlichting, Wilgus went to great pains in designing and testing the new engine. A good argument can be made that this was reasonable care, not negligence.
  3. Yet after the Crash, the railroad at the direction of Mr. Brown and without Wilgus’ participation successfully redesigned the engine and eliminated the problem. (Presumably this involved reducing the weight of the engine.) Thus, Wilgus was not essential to designing the engine, and the redesign suggests that he had not done all that he could have done on the initial design.
  4. Brown and the other railroad officials had not had an opportunity to defend themselves against these charges.

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[1] E.g., ONLY SECOND TRIP OF DOOMED TRAIN; Passengers Were Frightened at Speed Made Early in the Run. “CRACKED LIKE A WHIP,” Card Playing Commuters Soon Gave Up Their Games in the Swaying Cars, N.Y. Times (Feb. 16, 1907); CENTRAL WRECK; EIGHTEEN DEAD; New Electric Train Leaves the Tracks in the Bronx. MORE THAN 40 INJURED Passengers Ground to Death as Upset Cars Dragged Along the Ties. LAID TO OVERSPEEDING Bodies Chopped Out of the Wreckage—Motor Cars Never Left Rails. ENGINEER IS ARRESTED. Police Find Him Early This Morning—The Coroner Already Investigating, N.Y. Times (Feb. 16, 1907); NEWMAN QUIZZED AT WRECK INQUIRY; President Tells of Central’s Methods at the State Commission Hearing. RELIES ON MEN BELOW Details of Operation Are Left to Heads of Departments, President Declares, N.Y. Times (Feb. 27, 1907); WARNING WAS GIVEN BEFORE FATAL WRECK, N.Y. Times (Mar. 6, 1907); Weak Track Caused Wreck, N.Y. Times (May 8, 1907) (N.Y. Board of Railroad Commissioners conclusion)l PBS, The Woodlawn Crash, 1907.

[2] See Grand Central Terminal’s Centennial, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 2, 2013); Another Report on Grand Central Terminal’s Centennial, dwkcommentaries.com (April 7, 2014); Sam Roberts, Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America at 110 (Grand Central Pub; New York 2013).

[3] In early March 1907 the New York Central was held “culpably negligent” by the Coroner’s jury  and the Coroner held the company, its President Newman and its Board of Directors for the grand Jury. (Company Blamed for Bronx Wreck, N.Y. Times ( Mar. 5, 1907). Later that month the New York Central and two lower-level officials were indicted for manslaughter in the second degree by a New York State grand jury. (Central Indicted for Manslaughter, N.Y. Times (March 28, 1907).)

[4] Kurt C. Schlichting, Grand Central Terminal: Railroads, Engineering and Architecture in New York City at 82-106 (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press; Baltimore, MD; 2001); Kurt C. Schlichting, William J. Wilgus and the planning of modern Manhattan at 63-66 (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press; Baltimore, MD; 2012). Dr. Schlichting based his conclusions on documents in Box 7 of the Wilgus Papers at the New York Public Library.