U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns U.S. Embargo (Blockade) of Cuba

On November 3, 2022, the U.N. General Assembly again condemned the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba. The vote this time for the Cuban resolution was 185 to 2 (with the U.S. and Israel voting against the resolution) while two others abstained (Brazil and Ukraine).[1]

The resolution “reiterated its call on all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the text’s preamble, in conformity with their obligations under the United Nations Charter and international law. It also urged States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regimes.”

Cuba’s Argument for Its Resolution

Cuba alleged in support of its resolution that “only between August 2021 and February 2022 that unilateral policy caused Cuba losses in the order of 3,806.5 million dollars. The figure is 49% higher than that reported between January and July 2021 and a record in just seven months.”

“At current prices, [according to Cuba,] the accumulated damages during six decades of the blockade amount to 150,410.8 million dollars, with a great weight on sectors such as health and education, in addition to the damage to the national economy and the quality of life of Cuban families.”

“In the first 14 months of the Biden Administration alone, [said Cuba,] the losses caused by the blockade amounted to 6,364 million dollars, which is equivalent to an impact of more than 454 million dollars a month and more than 15 million dollars a day.”

Finally, Cuba claimed that  “The extraterritorial impact of the blockade harms the sovereignty of the countries of the United Nations, sanctions their businessmen and impedes access to their ports for third party ships that dock in Cuba. It also prevents the importation into Cuba of articles produced in any country when they have 10% or more of U.S. components.”

Cuba’s foreign Minister, Rodriguez Parrilla, also said, “During the pandemic, the blockade was further tightened, causing more delays in the delivery of necessary medical equipment. But despite limited resources, Cuba cooperated with other countries, sending medical brigades to provide aid. Equally unceasing, he said, is the fraudulent inclusion of Cuba in the United States Department of State’s unilateral list of countries that allegedly sponsor terrorism. This forces Cuba to pay twice the usual price for commodities on the international market. Cuba has rejected all forms of terrorism.”

The Foreign Minister added, “The current United States Administration does not have a Cuba policy, he said. Rather it continues to exert the “maximum pressure” policy developed under the Donald Trump Administration. Over the last few months, it has taken positive steps to alleviate certain restrictions, but the blockade continues to be the central element defining Cuba-United States policy.”

Other Countries’ Support for the Resolution

During the General Assembly debate over the Cuba resolution, “Member States condemned the economic embargo against Cuba, calling it cruel, inhumane and punitive. They urged the United States to begin a dialogue with Cuba based on the equality of States and respect for sovereignty and independence.”

“Representatives of several developing States also thanked Cuba for providing them with much-needed medical aid, nurses and vaccines at the height of the pandemic. Nicaragua’s delegate said that Cuba, thanks to its revolutionary spirit and socialist conviction, has been able to stand alongside the developed countries that sanction it by producing vaccines and helping ‘our developing peoples.’”

“Speakers for several Caribbean countries pointed out also that the United States blockade has had widespread implications and consequences and was stifling not only Cuba’s growth but that of the entire region. Several delegates questioned how the world could commit to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development while locking out one country from fairly participating in its own socioeconomic development.”

“’No nation should be punished and exploited by another,’ Gabon’s representative said. ‘Cuba is peaceful and cooperative and deserves the continued support of the international community in calling for an end to the embargo.’”

“Member States also questioned how they could overwhelmingly call for an end to the embargo year after year for decades without any results. ‘Every year, we speak about the devastating impact of the embargo on the people of Cuba, but we see no effort to remove the restrictions,’ Zimbabwe’s delegate said.”

The U.S. Statement Against the Resolution[2]

The U.S. statement purportedly justifying its opposition to the resolution was provided during the debate by John Kelley, Political Counselor, who said the following:

  • “The United States remains committed to the Cuban people in their pursuit of freedom, prosperity, and a future with greater dignity. We are focused on the political and economic wellbeing of the Cuban people and center our efforts on democracy and human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
  • “Cubans of all walks of life are speaking out for fundamental freedoms, protesting Cuban government repression, and advocating for a better future. In July of 2021, the world witnessed tens of thousands of Cubans across the island take to the streets to peacefully demand freedom. The Cuban government responded to the demands of the Cuban people with crackdowns on peaceful protesters, journalists, and human rights defenders.”
  • “The Cuban government has used harsh prison sentences, even against minors, intimidation tactics, arrests, Internet interruptions, government-sponsored mobs, and horrendous prison conditions to try to prevent Cubans from exercising their human rights.”
  • “Cuban security officials have also forced into exile human rights activists and journalists who had been either detained or warned about their activities. We join international partners in urging the Cuban government to release political prisoners immediately and unconditionally and to protect the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly of all individuals in Cuba.”
  • “As we hold the Cuban government accountable, our support for the Cuban people is unwavering. The embargo includes exemptions and authorizations relating to exports of food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods to Cuba.”
  • “We recognize the challenges the Cuban people face. The people of the United States and U.S. organizations donate a significant amount of humanitarian goods to the Cuban people, and the United States is one of Cuba’s principal trading partners. Since 1992, the United States has authorized billions of dollars of exports to Cuba, including food and other agricultural commodities, medicines, medical devices, telecommunications equipment, consumer goods, and other items to support the Cuban people. In 2021 alone, U.S. companies exported over $295 million worth of agricultural goods to Cuba, including food, to help address the Cuban people’s basic needs.”
  • “Last month, following the devastating impact of Hurricane Ian, the United States announced it is providing to the Cuban people critical humanitarian aid through trusted international partners working directly with Cubans whose communities were devastated by the storm. The U.S. Agency for International Development will provide $2 million in funding for emergency relief to those in need in Cuba.”
  • “Mr. President, the United States opposes this resolution, but we stand with the Cuban people and will continue to seek ways to provide meaningful support to them. We encourage this body to urge the Cuban government to listen to the Cuban people and their demands to determine their own future.”

Conclusion

Amazingly none of the major U.S. sources of international news—New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal—had any articles about this U.N. General Assembly resolution.

In contrast, this blog by a U.S. citizen living in the U.S. without any family connections with Cuba, but with involvement in Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s partnership with a Presbyterian-Reformed Church on the island, has contained many blog posts opposing the U.S. embargo of Cuba.[3] The most recent such post had an abbreviated history of the embargo and discussed the last U.N. General Assembly resolution against the embargo that passed on June 23, 2021, by a vote of 184 to 2 (again the U.S. and Israel in opposition) with three abstentions (Colombia, Brazil and Ukraine).[4]

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[1] U.N., General Assembly: 28th plenary meeting, 77th session (Nov. 3, 2022); Rodriguez, Overwhelming Victory for Cuba at the UN: 185 countries vote against the blockade, Granma (Nov. 3, 2022); Cuba Foreign Minister Rodriguez Parrilla, The world would be better off without the blockade, Granma (Nov. 3, 2022); How little the United States respect the world by maintaining the blockade against Cuba!, Granma (Nov. 2, 2022) (Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez’ Twitter statement); U.N. Secretary General, Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Jan. 20, 2022).

[2] U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Explanation of Vote After the Vote on a UN General Assembly Resolution on the Cuba Embargo (Nov. 3, 2022).

[3]  See the posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA [as of 5/4/20}.

[4]  Criticism of President Biden’s “New Cuba Policy,” dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 1, 2022).

Kueng and State Agree on Guilty Plea while Thao Agrees to Judge Cahill’s Deciding His Case on Existing Record

Today, October 24th was to be the start of the state court criminal trial with jury selection for J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao on charges of aiding and abetting the manslaughter and murder of George Floyd.[1]

Instead today the selection of a jury for that trial did not happen when Kueng and the prosecution announced an agreement for his pleading guilty to aiding and abetting the second-degree manslaughter of Mr. Floyd and a prison sentence of three and a half years. Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said that the negotiated settlement included dismissal of a second count of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder and Kueng’s state sentence will be served concurrently with the federal sentence for three years he’s serving at the federal prison in Elkton, Ohio.[2]

After that announcement, co-defendant Tou Thao told District Judge Peter Cahill that he was giving up his right to a jury trial and agreeing instead to a trial only on the aiding and abetting the second-degree manslaughter charge by stipulated evidence. Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, said that means Cahill will review the evidence and issue a verdict within 90 days and that if the decision is guilty there will be a sentence of three to five years. By November 17th the parties will advise the court of the evidence to be considered and written closing arguments with the Judge to render his decision within the following 90 days.

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[1] E.g., Preparations for State Criminal Trial of Kueng and Thou Over Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 13, 2022).

[2] Hyatt, Kueng pleads guilty to state charges in George Floyd killing, while Thao agrees to let judge decide his case, StarTribune (Oct. 24, 2022); Forliti, Ex-Minneapolis cop pleads guilty in George Floyd killing, AP News (Oct. 24, 2022); Bogel-Burroughs, Officer Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter in George Floyd’s Death, N.Y. Times (Oct. 22, 2022).

Preparations for State Criminal Trial of Kueng and Thao Over Killing of George Floyd     

On October 13, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill entered an Amended Trial Management Order for the upcoming trial of J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, former Minneapolis police officers, who face charges of aiding and abetting two crimes: (a) second-degree murder and (b) manslaughter  of George Floyd.[1]

Latest Trial Management Order

This Order provided great details on the following:

  • Trial Courtroom (No. 1856), the largest trial courtroom with maximal flexibility, in the Hennepin County Government Center (para. 1);
  • the Media Overflow Courtroom (No. C-2350) (para. 2);
  • the General Public Overflow Courtroom (No. 1659) (para. 3);
  • Court Administration discretion to combine overflow (para. 4);
  • Parties’ Work Rooms (para. 5);
  • Jury Anonymity (para. 6);
  • Clothing/Logos (para. 7), which bans all persons in attendance from “wearing any mask or article of clothing that contains any outwardly-visible image, logo, or letters, or is otherwise dressed in a coordinated fashion with other attending observers in any manner which . . . is designed to send a message to the jury hearing this trial;”
  • “All earlier administrative and trial management and decorum orders addressing other trial logistics and management-related matters . . . remain in effect, except as and only to the extent expressly superseded by this Order (para. 8); and
  • “All other rules of decorum found in Minn. Gen. R. Prac.2 will be followed unless specifically modified by this order or other orders of the presiding judge. The HCSO and court staff are authorized to enforce the rules of decorum” (Para. 9).

The trial is scheduled to start on October 24 with jury selection followed by opening statements on November 7. The trial testimony and closing arguments are expected to end by December 16th, when the jury is anticipated to commence its deliberations.

Pretrial Motions

Judge Cahill, however, has not yet released his rulings on the defendants’ 170 pretrial motions that were argued before the court on October 6 and 7.[2]

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[1] Amended Trial Management Order, State v. Thao & Kueng, (Oct. 13, 2022).

[2] Hyatt, Litany of motions heard ahead of ex-MPD officers’ trial this month for George Floyd’s killing, StarTribune (Oct. 7, 2022); Forliti, State, cops seek to bar evidence in trial over Floyd killing, AP News (Oct. 5, 2022)..

Cuban Government Asks for U.S. Aid in Responding to Hurricane Ian Damages While Cubans Protest Over Continued Power Outages

As reported in a prior post, Hurricane Ian on September 27 stroke the western portion of the island of Cuba, and by the next day the entire island’s electricity was out.

 Cuba Requests U.S. Aid for Restoring Electricity[1]

According to the Wall Street Journal on September 30 the Cuban government requested the U.S. government to provide emergency aid for responding to the damages caused on the island by Hurricane Ian. No exact amount of aid was specified, and a State Department spokesman reportedly told the Journal that it continues to communicate with the Cuban government regarding the humanitarian and environmental consequences of this hurricane and last August’s fire at the oil storage depot in Matanzas. That spokesman said, “We are evaluating ways in which we can continue to support the Cuban people, consistent with U.S. laws and regulations.”

On October 2, the Cuban Foreign Ministry on its Twitter account stated, “The Governments of Cuba and the United States have exchanged information on the considerable damage and unfortunate losses caused by Hurricane Ian in both countries.” But there was no mention of any Cuban request for assistance or any U.S. responses.

Complicating the U.S. providing any aid to Cuba for hurricane-damages is the need for the U.S. to address the immense Hurricane Ian damages in Florida, the Carolinas and Puerto Rico.

“If Cuba asks for humanitarian aid and the U.S. gives it to them, that would be a real breakthrough,” says William LeoGrande, an expert on Cuba at American University in Washington.

Cuban Protests Lack of Electricity[2]

In the meantime, many Cubans have gone to the streets in Havana, Matanzas, Cardenas and Holguin to protest continued lack of electricity and to demand the government restore electricity and provide aid to areas ravaged by the hurricane. For the most part, these protests were calm. The police did not interfere. There were no arrests. Instead, the government sent officials and Communist Party members to talk with the protesters. And the government appeared to cut off the Internet and telecommunications networks across the country, possible to prevent news of the demonstrations from spreading and encouraging others to join.

However, there have been reports of police detention of some of these protesters.

Ted Henken, a Cuba expert and a professor at the City University of New York, said after last       summer’s protests “people are out again because the government has been unable to address          the root causes of the protests. The frustration has bled into the general population because it’s     a scarcity of food, electricity, the basics. That has only been exacerbated by this horrible hurricane.”

Conclusion

 If any reader has knowledge of the substance of any Cuba-U.S. communications on this subject, please provide a comment with that information to this post.

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[1] Salama & Cordoba, Cuba Makes Rare Request for U.S. Aid After Devastation From Hurricane Ian, W.S.J. (Sept. 30 & Oct. 1, 2022).; Cuba and the US maintain exchanges on the damage caused by Hurricane Ian, Granma (Oct. 2, 2022).

[2] Acosta & Lopez, Cuba’s power grid fails in wake of Hurricane Ian, leaving island without electricity, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2022); Martinez, Cuba slowly starts restoring power after the entire island was blacked out, N.Y. Times (Sept. 28, 2022); Brown & Herrero, Cuba suffers total electrical outage as Hurricane Ian roars through, W.S.J. (Sept. 27 & 28, 2020); Acosta& Abi-Habib, Protests Erupt in Cuba Over Government Response to Hurricane Ian, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2022); Cubans Protest Over Power Outage Caused by Hurricane Ian, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2022); Cubans protest over power outages four days after Hurricane Ian, Guardian (Oct. 2, 2022); The Cuban regime accelerates its repressive machinery against the protests: disappearances, detainees and episodes of brutality, diario de cuba (Oct. 2, 2022);.

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane-Damaged Cuba Needs Immediate U.S. Recovery Help 

“Hurricane Ian caused great devastation [in Cuba]. The power grid was damaged, and the electrical system collapsed. Over four thousand homes have been completely destroyed or badly damaged. . . . In the western province of Pinar del Rio, famous for its tobacco production, over 5,000 farms were destroyed. In small towns like San Luis, 80% of all homes were left damaged . . . . Cuba must be allowed, even if just for the next six months, to purchase the necessary construction materials to REBUILD. Cubans are facing a major setback because of Hurricane Ian.”[1]

These words buttressed the demand by a U.S. organization, The People’s Forum,[2] in a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times for the U.S. to end the U.S. embargo of the island, the U.S. designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and the U.S. complex processes for dispatching disaster relief. The People’s Forum added the following:

  • “It is unconscionable at this critical hour to maintain the embargo and engage in collective punishment against an entire people by preventing Cuba from purchasing construction materials or receiving aid.”
  • President Biden put Cold war politics aside—even for six months!”
  • “The people of Cuba are part of our family—the human family. Don’t let outdated Cold War politics prevent peace-loving people from helping the Cubans to rebuild and return to their homes, rebuild the electrical grid, and have clean drinking water and access to food. The time to act is now!”
  • Cuba is our neighbor. The United States loses nothing by being a good neighbor and allowing Cuba to recover fully from this tragic moment.”[3]

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[1] Advertisement, Let Cuba Rebuild-Urgent Appeal to President Biden, N.Y.Times, p. A23 (Oct. 2, 2022). The ad solicited online donations through the website of another organization, LetCubaLive.

[2] The People’s Forum “are a movement incubator for working class and marginalized communities to build unity across historic lines of division at home and abroad. We are an accessible educational and cultural space that nutures the next generation of visionaries and organizers who believe that through collective action a new world is possible.” (The People’s Forum, About.)   The Forum previously has engaged in other efforts to promote U.S.-Cuba normalization. (The People’s Forum, Search Results: Cuba.)

[3] This advertised message provides an exclamation point to this blog’s most recent post, Criticism of President Biden’s “New Cuba Policy,” dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 1, 2022).

Criticism of President Biden’s “New Cuba Policy”

On May 16, 2022, the White House held a press briefing on what it called “Our New Cuba Policy.” After examining the details of that briefing, we will evaluate that so called “New Policy” and conclude that it is inadequate by failing to call for elimination of (a) the U.S. embargo of Cuba and (b) the U.S. designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

U.S. “New Cuba Policy”[1]

The “new” policy was said to be designed “to increase support for the Cuban people and safeguard our national security interests” and resulted from the U.S. study over the last year that “continues to center on human rights and empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future, and we continue to call on the Cuban government to release all political prisoners.” This review was directed by President Biden to take actions in response to “the large-scale [Cuban] protests that took place last July” and “to take actions in two primary areas:”

  • “The first is to promote accountability for human rights abuses, for which we have announced several rounds of sanctions targeting those individuals and entities with direct ties to human rights abuses.”
  • “Second, . . . to explore meaningful ways to support the Cuban people.”

Therefore, the “new” policy has “prioritized and facilitated the export of privately sourced or donated goods to the Cuban people, focusing specifically on agricultural and medical exports; facilitated U.S. private sector faith-based organizations and other NGOs to provide humanitarian support; provided guidance to individuals and entities seeking to export to Cuba for the first time; . . . increased our support for the families of those who were detained; and increased, by $5 million, our support for censorship circumvention technology to support the ability of the Cuban people to communicate to, from, and among each other.”

In addition, the “new” policy was stated to fulfill President Biden’s commitment to the “Cuban American community and their family members in Cuba” by the following measures:

  • “[R]einstate the Cuba Family Reunification Parole Program and continue to increase the capacity for consular services. . . . [The U.S.] resumed limited immigrant visa processing [in Cuba] in early May and are looking to make sure that we staff up so that we can begin processing the full 20,000 immigrant visas out of Havana as quickly as possible.”
  • “[Strengthen] family ties and . . . [facilitate] educational connections for American and Cuban people by expanding authorized travel. . . . [That includes] specifically authorizing commercial and charter flights to locations beyond Havana.  We are reinstating group people-to-people educational travel under a general license, among a number of other measures.  We are not reinstating individual people-to-people educational travel.”
  • “[w]e are increasing support for independent Cuban entrepreneurs.  That includes encouraging commercial opportunities outside the state sector by using . . . independent Cuban entrepreneurs’ access to the Internet, cloud technology, programming interfaces, e-commerce platforms, and a number of other measures, including access to microfinance and training.”
  • The U.S. “will ensure that remittances flow more freely to the Cuban people while not enriching those who perpetrate human rights abuses.  . . . [That includes] removing the limit on family remittances of $1,000 per quarter per sender/receiver pair.  And we’ll authorize donative remittances, which will support Cuban families and independent Cuban entrepreneurs.”

In addition, the new policy will “continue to elevate the matter of human rights, the treatment of political prisoners, and . . . elevate the issue of labor rights in Cuba, [which more generally is “a core priority for the Biden-Harris administration.”

The authorization of group travel to Cuba will be limited to purposeful purposes, not tourism.

More generally the new policy is intended “to help alleviate the humanitarian suffering that prompts out-migration from Cuba and also to advance our interest in supporting the Cuban people and ensuring that Cuban Americans and Americans in general are also the best advanced ambassadors for U.S. policy.”

The U.S. will be increasing the staff at the Havana Embassy “with an appropriate security posture.”

There was no mention at this briefing of two very significant U.S. policies regarding Cuba: the U.S. embargo of the island and the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Therefore, both of them remain in effect with continued major impacts on the island and will be discussed below.

Reactions to the “New” U.S. Cuba Policy[2]

New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American and now the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the maintenance of the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List and the restart of the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program. But he was “dismayed” at its restarting group travel to the island because it will not breed democracy on the island and merely help the Cuban government fund its “continued repression.”

The harshest critic of the “new” policy was Ben Rhodes, who was President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor and involved in that administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. Said Rhodes, “Disappointed doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how I feel about the Biden-Cuba policy. Granted it was Trump” who initially reversed Obama’s policies, but “then Biden doubles down” on Trump’s policies. We had Trump—in the most grotesque, callous way—politicizing this. But then Biden doubles down. It’s a gaslighting to those people in Cuba ” (deliberately and systematically feeding false information that  leads recipients to question what they know to be true). (Emphasis added).

Scott Hamilton, who served as U.S. charge d’ affaires in Havana during Obama’s opening to Cuba, said Biden’s measures do not reorient relations, but “are more about addressing the need to get the numbers [of Cuban [emigrants] down on migration.”

It also should be noted that Biden left Trump’s sanctions in place as the coronavirus pandemic overwhelmed the island’s medical system and strangled tourism, a crucial source of cash and goods for families. Allowing U.S. flights only to Havana ignores the difficulties of obtaining and paying for land transportation to other parts of the island, and most hotels are off-limits under U.S. regulations. Biden’s relaxing limits on remittances to families on the island is a good idea, but it does not cope with the difficulties of U.S. blacklisting of the financial institution for electronic fund transfers, Fincimex, due to its ties to the Cuban military. A leading U.S. expert on Cuba, William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University, said, “What’s striking about these[Biden] measures is, there’s nothing about reopening the diplomatic dialogues that were ongoing at the end of the Obama administration.”

As a member of a church (Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian) that since 2001 has had a partnership with a Presbyterian church in Matanzas, Cuba and members who actively provide and maintain clean-water systems on the island,I welcome the new Policy’s encouraging “faith-based organizations to provide humanitarian support.” I, therefore, reject Senator Menendez’s criticism of encouraging group travel to the island.

The Biden administration is hoping that these new measures will reduce Cuba’s soaring out-migration. Apprehensions of Cubans on the U.S.-Mexico border have rocketed to more than 113,000 in the first seven months of this fiscal year, nearly three times as many as in all of fiscal 2021. These emigrants include some activists who were protesting in the streets last year, teachers, farmers and parents of young children who decided they would be better off leaving as the island’s economy continued to tank, the Cuban government having not enacted significant reforms and Nicaragua lifted its visa requirement, making travel there easier. This exodus is sapping Cuba of much of its youth while its population is aging and declining.

Now these economic problems have been exacerbated by the following two recent events:

  • In August 2022 oil storage tanks near the city of Matanzas on the north coast of the island were destroyed by a lightning strike. That destruction resulted in a heavy human toll and a serious blow to fuel for Cuba’s electric power generating system, which already had been tottering from lack of maintenance and investment. The U.S., however has not offered any help in responding to this emergency other than telephonic technical assistance.
  • More recently, on September 26, Hurricane Ian, a Category 3 storm, slammed into the western end of the island. The next morning videos showed residents walking through waist-deep water as waves continued to crash on shore. Power lines, trees and siding could be seen littered along the roads. Electric power throughout the island was damaged.

U.S. Embargo of Cuba[3]

On October 19, 1960, almost two years after the Cuban Revolution had taken over the island’s government, the Eisenhower administration launched the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba that prohibited all U.S. sales of goods and services to Cuba except food and medicine. That embargo continues in effect today, nearly 62 years later, with amplification by many U.S. statutes.

Cuba claims that to date it has suffered significant economic damages from the embargo and the U.N. General Assembly every year since 1992 (except 2020 due to the Covid pandemic) has adopted resolutions, by overwhelming margins, condemning the embargo as a violation of international law.

The last session to approve such a resolution happened on June 23, 2021, when the vote was 184 to 2 (the U.S. and Israel in opposition) with three abstentions (Colombia, Ukraine and Brazil). Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla told the Assembly that the embargo was a “massive, flagrant and unacceptable violation of the human rights of the Cuban people” and  “an economic war of extraterritorial scope against a small country already affected in the recent period by the economic crisis derived from the pandemic” with estimated 2020 losses alone to be $9.1 million.

The U.S. opposition at the last session was offered by Rodney Hunter, the Political Coordinator for the U.S Mission, who said sanctions are “one set of tools in the U.S. broader effort toward Cuba to advance democracy, promote respect for human rights, and help the Cuban people exercise fundamental freedoms.” Moreover, despite the blockade, the US recognizes “the challenges of the Cuban people” and therefore, the US was “a significant supplier of humanitarian goods to the Cuban people and one of Cuba’s principal trading partners. Every year we authorize billions of dollars’ worth of exports to Cuba, including food and other agricultural commodities, medicines, medical devices, telecommunications equipment, other goods, and other items to support the Cuban people. Advancing democracy and human rights remain at the core of our policy efforts.”

The current session of the General Assembly on November 2, 2022, will consider this year’s report by the U.N. Secretary-General, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The U.N. website for this report had a list of countries that had submitted comments (presumably supportive of the resolution), but did not include any comments from the U.S. or Israel, both of whom voted against the resolution in 2021, or from the three countries that abstained last year (Brazil, Colombia and Ukraine).

Therefore, it is fair to assume that the resolution against the U.S. embargo will again by overwhelmingly approved on November 2. Moreover, this blog continues to support abolishing the embargo.

U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”[4]

Since 1982 the United States has had different opinions as to whether Cuba was a “state sponsor of terrorism” under three U.S. statutes—the Export Administration Act (section 6(j)), the Arms Export Control Act (section 40) and the Foreign Assistance Act (Section 620A)—that authorize the Secretary of State to designate countries that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” as “state sponsors of terrorism” and thereby impose sanctions on such countries, including restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, bans on U.S. defense exports and sales, controls over exports of dual use items and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

We will look at these different positions, including the Biden Administration’s current review of the Trump Administration’s last minute designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor.”

Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” 1982-2014. From 1982 through 2014, the U.S. designated Cuba as such a Sponsor.[5]

U.S. Rescinds Cuba’s “Sponsor” Designation, 2015.  [6] On April 14, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry publicly announced that the State Department had recommended that President Obama rescind the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” His press release stated that the prior week the “Department submitted a report to the White House recommending, based on the facts and the statutory standard, that President Obama rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

“This recommendation,” the Statement continued, “reflects the Department’s assessment that Cuba meets the criteria established by Congress for rescission . . . . whether Cuba provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six months, and whether Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” This conclusion was based, in part, upon “corroborative assurances received from the Government of Cuba.”

Nevertheless, according to the Secretary’s statement, “the United States has had, and continues to have, significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, [but] these concerns and disagreements fall outside of the criteria for designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

The same day (April 14, 2015), a White House press release stated the President had “submitted to Congress the statutorily required report and certifications indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.” That presidential decision was based upon the previously mentioned State Department recommendation that was based on its “careful review of Cuba’s record, which was informed by the Intelligence Community, as well as assurances provided by the Cuban government.”

This White House press release also stated, “As the President has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.  That determination is based on the statutory standard – and the facts – and those facts have led the President to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.  More broadly, the [U.S.] will continue to support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people.”

President Obama’s simultaneous message to Congress certified that “(i) the Government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and (ii) the Government of Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”

U.S. Non-Designation of Cuba, 2016-2020.[7] From 2016 through the end of the Obama Administration in January 2017, the U.S. continued to not so designate Cuba as the U.S. and Cuba held several bilateral diplomatic meetings to discuss the many issues that had accumulated ever since the January 1, 1959, takeover of the Cuban government by the Cuban Revolution.

At  their May 2016 Law Enforcement Dialogue, the U.S. State Department said that “law enforcement is an area of mutual interest to both the U.S. and Cuba as we advance toward normalized relations. We anticipate that the dialogue will be productive, and an additional opportunity to reinforce the benefits of law enforcement cooperation. During the dialogue, the United States and Cuba will continue to discuss a wide range of areas of cooperation, including counterterrorism, counternarcotic, transnational crime, cybercrime, secure travel and trade, and fugitives.”

The framework for the dialogue was the May 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Cuban Ministry of Interior. This MOU set the basis of cooperation in exchanging risk information for travelers, cargo or conveyances in international transit; the continuation of periodic, mutual, and reciprocal assessments regarding air, sea, and port security; and the coordination of transportation security, screening of cargo, travelers and baggage, and the design of secure, efficient inspection facilities at ports and airports, among other things.

The next month, June 2016,  the U.S. and Cuba met in Havana for their first Counterterrorism Technical Exchange. The State Department said, “Coordination and cooperation on counterterrorism has been one of several important topics discussed in law enforcement dialogues between the United States and Cuba. We welcome the opportunity to bring together technical experts to discuss this topic of common interest.” Afterwards, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said that the meeting was conducted with “respect and professionalism” and that “both parties agreed on the importance of progress in cooperation in this sphere and agreed to continue the meetings of technicians on the topic.”

During the last weeks of the Obama Administration in January 2017, the U.S. and Cuba signed the following four agreements:

  • Cuba Memorandum of Understanding on Law Enforcement “to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and other international criminal activities.”
  • Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen cooperation in the field of maritime and aeronautical search and rescue by enhancing effectiveness and efficiency in assisting persons in distress and to act in furtherance of obligations under international law.
  • U.S., Cuba and Mexico signed a treaty to set territorial limits in contested Gulf of Mexico waters. The treaty covers the Eastern Gap of the Gulf of Mexico, an area believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. The three countries’ overlapping claims in the Eastern Gap had created what is known as a “Doughnut Hole.” Trilateral discussions begun in mid-2016 on the maritime territorial issue were concluded by the end of the year.
  • U.S. and Cuba memorandum of understanding to help prevent the introduction and spread of quarantine pests, animal and plant disease agents through the exchange of scientific information, best practices for the prevention and control of plagues and emerging diseases, collaborative scientific projects, including the use of technology, research and surveillance, and the holding of events on specific aspects of animal and plant health.

In addition, the Trump Administration for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 did not designate Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

U.S. Re-Designation of Cuba as “Sponsor,2021-22.[8] On January 11, 2021 (with only nine days left of the Trump Administration), U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo announced that Cuba was being re-designated as a “State Sponsor” to join Iran, North Korea and Syria. Here is what his statement said:

  • “The State Department has designated Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism for repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.”
  • “The Trump Administration has been focused from the start on denying the Castro regime the resources it uses to oppress its people at home, and countering its malign interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere.”
  • “With this action, we will once again hold Cuba’s government accountable and send a clear message: the Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of U.S. justice.”
  • “For decades, the Cuban government has fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers, and hijackers, while many Cubans go hungry, homeless, and without basic medicine.  Members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, traveled to Havana to conduct peace talks with the Colombian government in 2017.  Citing peace negotiation protocols, Cuba has refused Colombia’s requests to extradite ten ELN leaders living in Havana after the group claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured more than 87 others.”
  • “Cuba also harbors several U.S. fugitives from justice wanted on or convicted of charges of political violence, many of whom have resided in Cuba for decades.  For example, the Cuban regime has refused to return Joanne Chesimard, on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List for executing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973; Ishmael LaBeet, convicted of killing eight people in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1972; Charles Lee Hill, charged with killing New Mexico state policeman Robert Rosenbloom in 1971; and others.”
  • “Cuba returns to the SST list following its broken commitment to stop supporting terrorism as a condition of its removal by the previous administration in 2015.  On May 13, 2020, the State Department notified Congress that it had certified Cuba under Section 40A(a) of the Arms Export Control Act as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts in 2019.”
  • “In addition to the support for international terrorism that is the basis for today’s action, the Cuban regime engages in a range of malign behavior across the region.  The Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces, assisting Nicholas Maduro to maintain his stranglehold over his people while allowing terrorist organizations to operate.  The Cuban government’s support for FARC dissidents and the ELN continues beyond Cuba’s borders as well, and the regime’s support of Maduro has created a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela.”
  • “Today’s designation subjects Cuba to sanctions that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with Cuba, restricts U.S. foreign assistance, bans defense exports and sales, and imposes certain controls on exports of dual use items.”
  • “The United States will continue to support the Cuban people in their desire for a democratic government and respect for human rights, including freedom of religion, expression, and association.  Until these rights and freedoms are respected, we will continue to hold the regime accountable.”

So far in 2022, the U.S. has not taken any further action regarding this designation. However, at a July 21, 2022, press conference a journalist asked, “Is the administration’s position that Cuba still meets the legal requirements to be a state sponsor of terrorism?” The only response to that question came from  Ned Price, the Department’s spokesman, who said, “The fact pattern that led a previous administration to [so] designate Cuba . . . is in the public record.”

One year after the July 11, 2021 protests in Cuba, the United States recognizes the determination and courage of the Cuban people as they continue to fight for respect for human rights and persevere through repression during a historic year. We celebrate the Cuban people and commend their indomitable determination.

Conclusion

This blogger strongly favors a return to the Obama Administration’s pursuit of normalization of relations with Cuba as well as its rescinding the designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and its support for abolishing the U.S. embargo. These opinions are further supported by the recent explosion of Cuba’s oil storage tanks and its being hit by Hurricane Ira as well as recognizing that Cuba is a much smaller country than the U.S. with much more limited military and security forces.

Comments from readers to correct or supplement any of the discussion or citations to the record of these complex issues would be appreciated.

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

[1] White House, Background Press Call By Senior Administration Officials On New Cuba Policy (May  16, 2022).

[2] Sheridan & Chaoul, As Biden eases Trump’s sanctions, Cubans hope for an economic life, Wash. Post (June 2, 2022); Armario, Last year, Cubans took to the streets. Now they’re fleeing the island, Wash. Post (July 11, 2022); Isikoff, Former top Obama aide accuses Biden of ‘gaslighting’ Cuba: ‘Disappointed doesn’t begin to scratch the surface,’ Yahoo News (Sept. 14, 2022); Matanzas oil storage facility explosion, Wikipedia (Aug. 5, 2022); 17 missing, dozens hurt as fire rages in Cuban oil tank farm, MPRNews (Aug. 6, 2022); Fire at Cuban oil storage facility further exacerbated electricity shortages, wsws.org (Aug. 12, 2022); Cuba’s oil fire is contained—but the disaster has sparked U.S.-Cuba diplomatic flames, wusf news (Aug. 12, 2022); Finch, Residents in Cuba wake-up to waist-deep water after Ian makes landfall, Accuweather.com (Sept. 7, 2022); Last Minute, Hurricane Ian: the center leaves Cuban soil, but continues to hit with intense  winds, rains and strong swells, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 27, 2022); Byrne, Latest AccuWeather Eye Path forecast takes Ian’s landfall south of Tampa, Acuweather (Sept. 27, 2022); Live: the passage of Hurricane Ian through Cuba, Granma.com (Sept. 27, 2022); Cuba Foreign Ministry, The economic blockade against Cuba must end, (Sept. 7, 2022).

[3] United States embargo against Cuba, Wikipedia; UN General Assembly calls for US to end Cuba embargo for 29th consecutive year, UN News (June 23, 2021); U.N., Schedule of General Assembly Plenary and Related Meetings (Sept. 27, 2022). See also posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba (as of 5/4/20].

[4] See posts listed in “Cuba: State Sponsor of Terrorism?” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries: Topical—Cuba [as of 5/4/20].

[5] Ibid.

[6] See President Obama Rescinds U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” dwkcommentaries.com (April 15, 2015).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Crowley, Augustin & Semple, Pompeo Returns Cuba to Terrorism Sponsor List, Constraining Biden’s Plans, N.Y. Times (Jan. 11, 2021 & updated 2/15/21).

State Court Imposes Three-Year Sentence on Thomas Lane for Aiding and Abetting Manslaughter in Killing of George Floyd 

On September 21, 2022, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill sentenced former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane to three years imprisonment based upon his May 18, 2022, guilty plea to aiding and abetting manslaughter of George Floyd.[1]

That guilty plea agreement included the prosecution’s agreeing to a three-year sentence, dropping the more serious count of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder and agreeing to Lane’s service of the state sentence in the federal penitentiary where Lane was already imprisoned for his federal conviction after trial for depriving Mr. Floyd of his civil rights.

Before Judge Cahill imposed the sentence, Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matt Frank stated that the three-year sentence was below the state sentencing guidelines of 41 to 57 months because Lane played a “somewhat less culpable role” in Floyd’s death than Derek Chauvin by twice suggesting to Chauvin, who was the officer in charge, that Floyd should be turned over on his side.

Also before imposition of the sentence, attorney Frank read a statement from the Floyd family that said, “Talk about move on? Wow. Really? Me and my family would love to move on, but there’s just not a lot of accountability. We will always show up for George Floyd, but never move on.”

In remarks about the sentence, Judge Cahill said that Lane would have to register as a predatory offender “if required by law.” This prompted a subsequent response by Lane: “I gotta register as a predatory offender?” when his role was “minimal” when compared with Chauvin’s. “What the [explicative] is that? That’s what Chauvin has to do. If I have a minimal role, why the [explicative] do I have to do that?” [After the hearing, legal experts told journalists that this was standard language in Minnesota criminal cases, but that neither Lane nor Chauvin would be required to do so.]

Judge Cahill also stated, “I think it was a very wise decision for [Lane] to accept responsibility and move on with your life.”

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

[1] Ex-cop Lane gets 3 years for role in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (Sept. 21, 2022); Tumin & Bogel-Burroughs, Former Minneapolis Officer Sentenced to Three Years in George Floyd Case, N.Y. Times (Sept. 21, 2022); Forliti, Ex-cop Lane gets 3 years for role in George Floyd’s death, AP News (Sept. 21, 2022). See also Ex-Officer Thomas Lane Pleads Guilty to State Charge of Aiding and Abetting Manslaughter of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2022); Comment: More Details on Thomas Lane’s Guilty Plea, dwkcommentaries.com (May 19, 2022).

 

 

Kueng and Thao Reject Proposed Deals for State Guilty Pleas for George Floyd Killing     

On August 15, 2022, in Hennepin County District Court Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank offered the following plea deal to J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao: (a) drop their convictions for aiding and abetting the second-degree murder of George Floyd in exchange for their pleading guilty to the lesser charge of aiding and abetting manslaughter and (b) recommending a three-year prison sentence to be served concurrently with their federal sentences of three years for Kueng and 3 ½ years for Thao.[1]

With Judge Peter Cahill presiding, both men rejected the proposed plea deal with Thao saying, “It would be a lie and a sin for me to accept a plea deal.”

Prosecutor Frank added that the proposed plea deal thus had expired, and the two men still faced their scheduled October 24th trial in this court.

Before the public hearing, Judge Cahill rejected a request from both defense attorneys to hold today’s proceedings in private chambers to avoid media attention. Thao’s attorney said allowing it to proceed in open court made it purely for “public consumption” and would impede a fair trial, while Kueng’s attorney said prosecutors have unfairly taken advantage of the media spectacle around the high-profile cases against the officers. Judge Cahill, however, said he didn’t see how their clients declining to plead guilty would harm their credibility with a jury. The Judge also denied Thao’s attorney’s request to gag prosecutors from talking to reporters.

In a subsequent public statement, Attorney General Keith Ellison said  it’s “a standard best practice” to make a record in court when prosecutors offer a plea agreement to ensure the defendant is making a knowing and free decision. The defendants have a right to decline the offer and proceed to trial. The State is ready for trial.”

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

[1] Mannix, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng reject plea deal offered by state prosecutors in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (Aug. 15, 2022);  Karnowski, Thao, Kueng say they rejected plea deal in Floyd killing, Assoc. Press (Aug. 15, 2022).

 

 

 

Completion of Federal Criminal Cases Over Killing of George Floyd

The federal criminal cases over the May 2020 Minneapolis killing of George Floyd started with the May 2021 grand jury indictment of the four ex-Minneapolis police officers who were involved (Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao). The significant subsequent events in those cases were the December 2021 guilty plea of Chauvin; the January-February 2022 federal jury trial of the other three defendants and their guilty verdict; and the July 2022 sentencing of all four defendants. Here are some of the details of those events.

The Criminal Indictment[1]

On May 7, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota unsealed the federal grand jury indictment of four ex-Minneapolis police officers (Chauvin, Lane, Kueng and Thao) for allegedly using the “color of the law” on May 25, 2020 to deprive  George Floyd of his constitutional rights to be “free from the use of unreasonable force” when Chauvin held Floyd down by the neck for more than nine minutes while the others did nothing to stop Chauvin. In addition, all four were charged with failing to help provide medical care to Floyd and “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to create a substantial risk of harm.”

Chauvin’s Guilty Plea[2]

On December 15, 2021, at the St. Paul federal courthouse Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty to two counts of depriving George Floyd of his federally-protected civil rights by pinning his knee against Floyd’s neck and by failing to provide medical care for Floyd on May 25, 2020, ultimately causing his death. Chauvin also pleaded guilty to separate federal charges for holding down with his knee a 14-year-old boy in 2007 and failing to provide medical care to the boy and thereby causing non-fatal injuries.

On May 4, 2022, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson issued an Order accepting Chauvin’s plea agreement and stating that the court “will sentence Defendant in accordance with the terms of the plea agreement,” which provided that both sides agreed he should face a sentence from 20 to 25 years.

Federal Criminal Trial of the Other Three Defendants[3]

Lane , Kueng and Thao went to trial on these charges in January 2022. On February 24, 2022, the jury rendered its verdict that all three were guilty of all charges.

Federal Sentencing of Chauvin[4]

On July 7, 2022, in accordance with that approved plea agreement, Judge Magnuson  sentenced Chauvin to 245 months (20.4 years) in federal prison for these crimes. Said the Judge, ““I really don’t know why you did what you did. But to put your knee on another person’s neck until they expire is simply wrong and for that conduct you must be substantially punished. Your conduct is wrong and it is offensive. To put a knee on another person’s neck is unconscionable.” In addition, the Judge said that Chauvin’s taking control of the Floyd arrest had “absolutely destroyed the lives of three other young officers [Lane, Kueng and Thao].”

Federal Sentencing of Lane[5]

On June 29, 2022, federal prosecutors in a written brief asked the federal court to impose a sentence of up to 6.5 years for Lane’s conviction.

At the July 21st hearing on Lane’s sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich argued, “It is fair and reasonable for a police officer to act when they both appreciate the seriousness of the situation and have the training to make a difference. But there has to be a line where blindly following a senior officer’s lead even for the newest officers cannot be acceptable and that line is surely crossed when someone is dying slowly in front of the new officer.” Moreover, she said, Lane’s decision not to provide Floyd with medical aid was a “catastrophic lapse” that resulted in Floyd’s death.

In response, Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, argued that Lane should receive downwards departures from the sentencing guidelines because he was “substantially less culpable” than the other defendants and had accepted responsibility for the crime with his guilty plea to the state criminal charges.

Others who made comments at the hearing were George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, who asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence on Lane, and George Floyd’s girlfriend, Courtney Ross, who said she did not believe Lane was a bad guy, but still had to pay his dues while hoping that he would find his “inner hero” when he gets out of prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson then sentenced Lane to 30 months (2 ½ years) in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release. The Judge noted the Court’s receipt of 145 letters with favorable comments on Lane and his being less responsible for Floyd’s killing as favoring a lesser sentence even though this was “a very serious offense wherein a life was lost. The fact that you did not get up and remove Mr. Chauvin from Mr. Floyd when Mr. Floyd became unresponsive is a violation of the law.”

Judge Magnuson also said he would urge the federal Bureau of Prisons to send Lane to a facility in Duluth and set a self-surrender date of October 4th after Lane’s September 21st state court sentencing on his guilty plea.

Afterwards a retired Bloomington, MN police officer, Richard Greelis, expresses his belief that Lane, a four-day officer, “should never have been charged with a crime” because “rookie officers are impressed . . . to follow the advice and example of both the FTO [here, Chauvin] and all veteran officers on the street. . . . Rookies would be totally out of their league without their FTO there to guide them. Believe me, all the training in the world does not and cannot prepare you for that first day in uniform.”

Federal Sentencing of Kueng and Thao[6]

On July 22, 2022, Judge Magnuson held a hearing to announce that he would calculate the offense levels for the sentences on Kueng and Thao on the involuntary manslaughter charge, not the second-degree murder charge. This was because the Judge said, “the evidence showed that Kueng genuinely thought that Mr. Floyd was suffering from excited delirium with a drug overdose, and Thao genuinely believed that the officers were dealing with a drug overdose with possible excited delirium.” As a result, said the Judge, these facts precluded the element of “malice aforethought” necessary to prove second-degree murder.

At this hearing, the Judge also rejected the two men’s claims that they were entitled to lesser sentences because they were acting under “color of law” because their positions in law enforcement were addressed in their criminal convictions.

Kueng. At a July 27th hearing Judge Magnuson sentenced Kueng to three years in prison. According to the Judge, there was no question that Kueng violated Floyd’s rights by failing to get off him when Floyd became unresponsive. But there was “an incredible number “ of letters supporting Kueng from other police officers that emphasized his rookie status. The prison term will begin this coming October.

Thao. At a second July 27th hearing, Thao spent over 30 minutes reading aloud several Biblical passages. Judge Magnuson sentenced Thao to 3 ½ years, to begin this coming October.

Conclusion

Absent an appeal by either or both Kueng and Thao from their convictions and/or sentences, the four federal criminal cases over the death of George Floyd have been concluded.

Both Kueng and Thao, however, still face an October 24th trial in Minnesota state court on charges of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Now, however, there is an incentive for these two men to seek a guilty plea to the state charges for sentences not exceeding these federal sentences, to be served concurrently in federal prison. [7]

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

[1] Federal Criminal Charges Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2021).

[2] Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges Over Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 16, 2021); Comment: Federal Court Accepts Chauvin’s Plea Agreement, dwkcommentaries.com (July 7, 2022);

[3] Federal Criminal Trial for Killing George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 25, 2022). Further details of this criminal prosecution are provided in posts listed in the “Federal Criminal Cases Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over Killing of George Floyd (and Against Derek Chauvin over Excess Force Against Teenager)” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: George Floyd Killing.

[4] Federal Court Sentences Derek Chauvin to 245 Months (20.4 years) for Depriving George Floyd (and John Pope) of Their Federal Civil Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (July 8, 2022).

[5] Federal Prosecution Proposes Criminal Sentences for Ex-Officers Lane, Kueng and Thao’s Convictions for Involvement in the Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (July 2, 2022); Montemayor, Ex-officer Thomas Lane sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, StarTribune (July 21, 2022); Kummer & Bogel-Burroughs, Ex-Officer Who Held George Floyd’s Legs Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison, N.Y. Times (July 21, 2022); Collins, Ex-cop Lane gets 2 ½ years for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, MPRnews (July 21, 2022); Judgment in a Criminal Case, U.S. v. Lane, Case No. 0:21-CR-00108 (4), U.S. Dist. Ct., D. MN (July 21, 2022); Greelis, George Floyd murder: Reduced sentence for rookie officer makes sense, StarTribune (July 25, 2020).

[6] Montemayor, Kueng sentenced to 3 years, Thao 3 ½ years for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, StarTribune (July 27, 2022) Forliti (AP), Ex-cops Kueng, Thao sentenced for violating Floyd’s rights, Wash. Post (July 27, 2022); Kummer & Bogel-Burroughs, Last 2 Officers Involved in George Floyd’s Death Are Sentenced to Prison, N.Y. Times (July 27, 2022) .

[7] Judge agrees to move trial of two former Minneapolis officers to October in George Floyd’s death, StarTribune (June 21, 2022). Resetting State Criminal Trial Date for Kueng and Thao for Killing of George Floyd, ddwkcommentaries.com (June 21, 2022). [Comment:] District Court Order Regarding New Trial Date, dwkcommentaries.com (June 24, 2022).

 

 

Federal Court Sentences Derek Chauvin to 245 months (20.4 years) for Depriving George Floyd (and John Pope) of Their Federal Civil Rights

On July 7, 2022, in the U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota, Judge Paul A. Magnuson sentenced Derek Chauvin to 245 months (20.4 years) in federal prison for (a) his depriving George Floyd of his federal civil rights by pinning his knee against Floyd’s neck and by failing to provide medical care for Floyd on May 25, 2020, ultimately causing his death and (b) Chauvin’s holding down with his knee John Pope, then  a 14-year old boy in 2007, and failing to provide medical care to the boy and thereby causing non-fatal injuries. [1]

At the hearing, Judge Magnuson said, “I really don’t know why you did what you did. But to put your knee on another person’s neck until they expire is simply wrong and for that conduct you must be substantially punished. Your conduct is wrong and it is offensive. To put a knee on another person’s neck is unconscionable.” In addition, the Judge said that Chauvin’s taking control of the Floyd arrest had “absolutely destroyed the lives of three other young officers [Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao].”

Other Comments at the Hearing

Before the Judge announced the sentence, the federal prosecutor, LeeAnn Bell, said the sentence “needs to reflect the intentionality. He wasn’t a rookie. He’d been a police officer for years. He knew what his training was. He knew what he was doing was wrong and he did it anyway.” The prosecution’s request for the longer sentence of 25 years reflected that fact that Chauvin’s crime against John Pope was not part of the state case over the killing of George Floyd, for which Chauvin previously was convicted and sentenced by the state court.

George Floyd’s brother, Philonise, said, “I haven’t had a real night’s sleep since this happened. Hearing my brother beg and plead for his life again and again, screaming for our mom.” His family had received a “life sentence. We will never get George back.”

Courtney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, in a written statement read by the Judge said, “I don’t hate you, Mr. Chauvin. I’m working on forgiving you because that’s what George Floyd would want me to do.”

John Pope told the court that his encounter with Chauvin had changed him from a “happy’ person to someone who saw his dreams “slip from my hands.” Pope hopes Chauvin takes this time to think about what he could have done differently and what he did to others,” noting that Chauvin’s actions against him had gone unchallenged until Floyd’s killing.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, told the court that Chauvin had received over 1,000 letters of support, evidencing his good “character and qualities as a human being,” that Chauvin had already been punished by [the State of Minnesota] for the offenses [against Mr. Floyd] and that Chauvin had accepted his wrongdoing and had expressed remorse for the harm that has flowed from his actions.

Chauvin himself said that he wanted “to wish [Floyd’s children] all the best in their life and have excellent guidance in becoming great adults.” To John Pope, Chauvin said, “I hope you have a good relationship with your mother and also your sister, and I hope you have the ability to get the best education possible to lead a productive and rewarding life.” But Chauvin did not apologize.

Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, thanked his supporters and denounced the “misinformation” in media that her son is a racist and has no heart. Everyone in Minnesota needs to heal and realize that all lives matter, no matter the color of your skin. Every life matters.” She then asked for federal prison placement in Minnesota or Iowa to be close to his family.

Background for the Hearing[2]

On December 15, 2021, Chauvin pleaded guilty to two counts of depriving Mr. Floyd of his federally-protected civil rights and ultimately causing his death and to the charges for his 2017 misconduct with Mr. Pope, and under the negotiated Plea Agreement the prosecution and Chauvin agreed that the court could impose imprisonment of 20 to 25 years for these crimes.

This plea agreement was approved by Judge Magnuson on May 4, 2022, when he said the federal sentence would be in accordance with that plea agreement.

Conclusion[3]

Since his conviction on the state criminal charges, Chauvin has been in “administrative segregation” in Minnesota’s maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights, MN and largely confined to a 10-by-10-foot room with about one hour a day outside for exercise.

Now he will be transferred to a federal prison. The federal Bureau of Prisons will decide where Chauvin will be assigned, after evaluating his medical or programming needs, separation and security measures to ensure his protection and proximity to his release residence. Experts speculate that he probably will start in a medium-security facility. Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger observed, “It’s dangerous to be an officer in any prison. It’s even more dangerous in state prison because of the nature of the inmate population. There are gangs, for example. And police officers just don’t do well there. Those risks are reduced in a federal prison.”

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1  U.S. Sentencing Memorandum, U.S. v. Chauvin, Criminal No. 21-108(01), U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (June 22, 2022); Defendant’s Position Regarding Sentencing, U.S. v. Chauvin, Criminal No. 21-108(01), U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (June 22, 2022); Montemayor, Derek Chauvin’s federal sentencing scheduled for Thursday, StarTribune (July 5, 2020); Karnowski (AP), Derek Chauvin to be sentenced Thursday in St. Paul on federal charges in George Floyd killing, Pioneer Press (July 5, 2022); Almasy, Derek Chauvin to be sentenced Thursday on  federal charges, cnn.com (July 7, 2022); Bailey, Derek Chauvin faces federal sentence for Floyd’s killing, Wash. Post (July 7, 2022); Collins & Sepic, George Floyd killing: Derek Chauvin sentencing underway in federal court, MPRNews (July 7, 2022); Karnowski (AP), Chauvin gets 21 years for violating Floyd’s civil rights, AP News.com (July 7, 2022); Bailey, Chauvin sentenced to 20 years for violating Floyd’s civil rights, Wash. Post (July 7, 2022); Sepic & Collins, Ex-cop Chauvin gets 20-plus years for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, MPRNews (July 7, 2022); Senter & Dewan, Killer of George Floyd Sentenced to 21 Years for violating civil rights, N.Y. Times (July 7, 2022).

[2] Federal Criminal Trial for Killing George Floyd: Jury Deliberations and Verdict, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 25, 2022); Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges Over George Floyd Killing and Excess Force Against Teenager, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 16, 2021); Comment: Federal Court Accepts Chauvin’s Plea Agreement, dwkcommentaries.com (July 7, 2022); Order, U.S. v. Chauvin, Criminal No. 21-108(01), U.S. Dist. Ct. MN (May 4, 2022).

[3]   EXPLAINER: Chauvin heads to federal prison for Floyd’s death. StarTribune (July 7, 2022).