State Department Grants the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award to José Daniel Ferrer

On June 12, the U.S. State Department granted the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award to José Daniel Ferrer, a Cuban who has persistently criticized various policies of his government and who has been persecuted for so doing. Here is the text of that award.[1]

“Human rights defender José Daniel Ferrer has spent most of his adult life imprisoned for trying to make Cuba a free nation.  Ferrer has worked tirelessly to ensure all Cubans have a voice in the affairs of their own country.  The Castro regime has responded by beating and torturing Ferrer, harassing and threatening his family and colleagues, and imprisoning him simply for demanding a better life for Cubans.  Despite these abuses, Ferrer has persisted.”

“It is this persistence, this courage in the face of physical danger, and this resolve to help Cubans who yearn to be free that has earned José Daniel Ferrer the prestigious Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award.  The United States government joins in the chorus of international voices that praise and commend Ferrer’s work, and the brave work of Cuban citizens on the island and abroad whose sole mission is to demand a free and fair government that encourages its people to thrive, instead of a dictatorship that jails them for their dissenting opinions.”

“We urge the Cuban government to take an important first step in this effort by immediately releasing José Daniel Ferrer from his four-and-a-half-year house arrest sentence, and immediately freeing all political prisoners.  These prisoners are simply demanding a better government.  They should be honored for their efforts as Ferrer is rightly being honored today.”

“This is a particularly powerful moment for human rights around the world and in our country.  We recognize the significance of the moment and emphasize the importance of fighting for human rights and fundamental freedoms.  We have more work to do, and Americans are fulfilling their right and responsibility to demand a more perfect union. Until the Cuban people can enjoy the freedoms and rights they are entitled to, the United States government will never stop holding the Cuban government accountable for its abhorrent actions against its own people.

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[1] State Dep’t, Press Statement: José Daniel Ferrer Receives the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award (June 12, 2020).  This blog has published many posts and comments about Ferrer.

 

 

Minnesota Romance in the Midst of the 1918 Flu

In April of 1917, LaVerne Roquette, a 22-year-old art student at the University of Minnesota, went dancing at the Roof Garden of the Hotel Radisson in downtown Minneapolis. There she met and danced with Russell Rathbun, a 27-year-old banker from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. They immediately fell in love and danced every night for a week before he shipped off for France with the American Expeditionary Force to fight in what became known as World War I.

They then became regular correspondents, and some of her letters mentioned what became known as the 1918 influenza or flu.

On October 10, 1918, LaVerne wrote a letter to her beau from her hometown of Dickinson, North Dakota, where she was sequestered. She said, “Mother won’t let me out because that awful disease … is all over the United States in every little town. All the towns and cities for miles around are all closed — everything but the meat markets, grocery, and dry good stores. At some places people have to wear gauze masks when they appear on the streets … the government has closed all schools, churches, theatres. Somehow this pretty day has been wasted. Have just had to sit inside and look out, all day long.”

Later that month, she wrote that the flu “has been raging like wildfire in the United States. It didn’t miss Dickinson by any means. I wasn’t left out of the swim either.” She had caught the flu.

Another letter from LaVerne said government officials were endorsing whiskey “to kill the influenza germ” so she stole a drink from her father’s wine chest. “I drank quite a large glass full of whiskey. In a very short time I talked very loud and giggled to myself. . . I soon fell into a deep sleep and never even moved until almost noon the next day.” After a week in bed, she recovered.

After the fighting in the war ended on the Armistice of November 11, 1918 (“the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”), Russell had survived and returned to the U.S. The two of them were married in January 1920.

They then lived in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota until 1922, when they moved to St. Paul after Minnesota Governor J.A.O. Preus appointed Russell to be State Commissioner of Banks.

These letters recently were discovered by their granddaughter, Holly Hannah Lewis, who used them to write a book for her family members.

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Brown, Letters from earlier pandemic echo with resonance today, StarTribune (May 31, 2020). The 1918 flu has been the subject of other posts and comments to this blog: Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020); [Comment]; Naming of 1918-20 Pandemic (Mar. 28, 2020); [Comment]: Other Thoughts on the 1918 Flu (April 22, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918-20 (May 17, 2020).

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 24): What We Are Learning in the Pandemic

Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist, offers her thoughts on what we are learning in the coronavirus pandemic. Here are her main points along with reactions thereto.

Noonan’s Observations[1]

She says we have learned a lot. “How intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins. The well-being of the West Side block depends on human traffic, which depends on restaurants and bars, which depend on the theater being open. It was a George Bailey economy: every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry.” [2] “Every economy is, in the end, and if you’re interested in economics you knew this, but not the way you know it after the business catastrophe of 2020.”

“But the biggest things I suspect we learned were internal. No matter what you do for a living, when you weren’t busy introspection knocked on the door and settled in. Two different men, professionals, both blinked with surprise as they reported, unasked, that they can’t believe they have their college-age kids home again and they’re all together and they have dinner every night and play board games. They were so grateful. They had no idea this was possible, that it would make them so happy. That it had been missing.”

“People have suffered. They’ve been afraid. The ground on which they stand has shifted. Many have been reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck. They’ve been thinking about their religious faith or lack of it, about their relationships. Phone calls have been longer, love more easily expressed, its lack more admitted.”

“It has been a dramatic time. We have stopped and thought about our lives, and our society’s arrangements. We have applauded together, for the first time, those whose jobs kept our towns up and operating, from nurses to truckers. We’ve rethought not only what is ‘essential’ but who is important. All this will change you as a nation.”

“Here is what I am certain of. We will emerge a plainer people in a plainer country, and maybe a deeper one. Something big inside us shifted.”

“[Y]ou can almost hear people thinking eh, our time is finite, our money limited—maybe that’s not gray[hair]. it’s silver. . . . I like the simplicity of this.”

“The world has admired and imitated America’s crisp chic, but I see an altering of the national style. For reasons economic and existential a new simplicity is coming, glitz leaving.”

“We’re getting pared down. We’re paring ourselves down.”

‘The pioneer genes shall prevail, and women will focus on the essentials: nurturing their children in the arc of safety (homes and schools) providing food (driving to breadlines and food banks) and making do with what is already in the closet. Everything old will be suddenly new again.”

“America is about to become a plainer place. Maybe a deeper one, too. Maybe that’s good.”

Reflections

Do you agree with any of these observations?

Some of her reflections concern individuals and every-day life. I certainly hope that “America is about to become a ‘plainer place’ and ‘a deeper one.’”

Economically we certainly should have learned “how intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins.”

Noonan, however, fails to mention the big economic lessons of the pandemic for me and many others: the immense economic inequality in the U.S.; the many ways of racial injustice in the U.S.; and our horrendous health-care system. All of these problems require government action.

That, in turn, raises my concern over the future impact of the many, young, conservative federal judges who recently have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate, some in the midst of the pandemic, pursuant to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s agenda.[3]

More generally, the need for government action emphasizes my belief that many aspects of the U.S. system of government are obsolete: the Electoral College; every state having two senators with equal voting rights regardless of the state’s population; the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule; the horribly complicated system of voting and its manipulation to suppress voting, including President Trump’s recent rantings against voting by mail.[4]

The Trump Administration’s inconsistent and wavering foreign  policies before and during the pandemic raise the question of what will become of the international system of institutions, treaties and laws that the U.S. helped to create after World War II to foster and preserve peace and human rights. In my opinion, we should be leading the world in reforming and modernizing this system, not tearing at its roots.[5]

All of these larger issues raise the issue of what can one individual do about them.

My answer. Carefully review candidates for office and vote for those who promise to work on these problems. Provide financial support to political parties and candidates as well as organizations that are supporting these reform measures. Advocate for individuals, organizations and policies involved in this effort.  (I choose to do my advocacy with this blog.)

Noonan appropriately mentions many people expressing gratitude for simple things in the midst of the pandemic. I  have gratitude for my wife, sons, their families and I being in good health and for my wife and I are not living in a senior-citizen retirement home. I am grateful for being retired with good savings and thus not worrying about keeping my job or finding a new one or about how I will be able to pay for food or the mortgage.[6]

I also am grateful for friends and family and have made efforts to reconnect with them.[7]

Like Noonan, I hope that people are “reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck.”

For a Christian, this means discerning your calling for a particular time and place and recognizing that your calling may change over time. This includes forgiving others for their wrongs as well as praying for forgiveness for your own misdeeds.[8]

I trust that I will continue learning about the world during this pandemic. Another of the many subjects I have learned something about are prior pandemics, especially the Flu Pandemic of 1918. [9]

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[1] Noonan, A Plainer People in a Plainer Time, W.S.J. (May 22, 2020).

[2] Noonan apparently refers to brothers George and Harry Bailey, characters in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George was a wealthy banker who suffers various difficulties, including not being present to save his brother from drowning. As  a result, George contemplates suicide before being rescued by his guardian angel and friends. (It’s a Wonderful Life, Wikipedia.)

[3] E.g., Hulse, McConnell Has a Request for Veteran Federal Judges: Pleases Quit, N.Y. Times (Mar. 16, 2020; Hulse, Trump Picks McConnell Protégé for Influential Appeals Court Seat, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2020).

[4] See, e.g., these entries in dwkcommentareis.com: Search: filibusterU.S. Needs More Democratization (Feb. 14, 2020); Responses to Ezra Klein’s Democratization Thesis (Feb. 15, 2020); Open Letter to U.S. Senate from 70 former Senators (Feb. 29, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin’s  Primary Election (April 10, 2020) (and comments thereto).

[5] E.g., Douthat, The End of the New World Order, N.Y. Times (May 23, 2020).

[6] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Gratitude I (Mar. 15, 2012);  Gratitude II (April 11, 2012); Gratitude III (April 12, 2014); Another Perspective on Gratitude; (Nov. 23, 2015); Other Thoughts About Gratitude. (Nov. 26, 2015).

[7] Pandemic Journal (# 8): Reconnecting with Family and Friends (April 8, 2020).

[8] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: The Roads Not Taken (April 27, 2011); My General Thoughts on Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014); Other Scriptural Passages About Vocation (Feb. 17, 2014); My Vocations (Feb. 23, 2014); Why I do Not Want to Die at 75 (Sept. 25, 2014); What Is Your Call Story? (Feb. 28, 2019); My Call Stories (Mar. 4, 2019). See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: RELIGION; A Christian-Muslim Conversation About Forgiveness (May 15, 2017).

[9] See, e.g., the following posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920 (May 17, 2020).

 

 

 

U.S. Insulting Proclamation of May 20th as Cuba’s Independence Day

On May 20, President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo stated that May 20 was Cuba’s Independence Day. Cuban officials immediately rejected that assertion.

Presidential Message on Cuban Independence Day, 2020[1]

“On Cuban Independence Day, we recognize the patriots who fought to liberate Cuba from its colonial oppression and build a society founded on freedom. We continue to stand with the Cuban people as they seek those fundamental rights, and we express our commitment to supporting them as they continue to fight for freedom and democracy.”

“The United States has historic ties to the Cuban people and remains in solidarity with the millions who have fled the oppression of Cuba’s tyrannical regime in search of a new life. Cuba’s people deserve a government that promotes individual liberties, basic human rights, and opportunities to prosper. The Cuban model represents failed socialism, and we will continue to ensure that Cuba does not export its repression anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. That is why I took action early in my Administration to implement a strong policy toward Cuba that promotes respect for human rights, free markets, and a transition to democracy in Cuba. America will keep working with our allies and partners in the Western Hemisphere to bring stability, religious liberty, cooperation, and a freer future to the great people of Cuba.”

“Today, we celebrate the many contributions of Cuban Americans to our American story, and we pledge to continue working with them to secure a better tomorrow for Cuba.”

Later that same day Trump delivered a video message to Cuban-Americans. “We proudly stand with the people of Cuba. We’re with you. We’re fighting with you. We’re thinking with you. Cuban Americans, we’re extremely proud of you. And I am glad you are on my side.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Statement on Cuban Independence Day[2]

“On Cuban Independence Day, I extend my warm regards and best wishes to the people of Cuba.  The United States joins you in celebrating the anniversary of Cuba’s independence, 118 years ago today.  The struggle of the Cuban people continues.  Your democratic system was overthrown by a military dictator at the middle of the last century.  But the revolution your forefathers fought for your rights, freedoms, and prosperity was hijacked by a communist dictatorship that has inflicted the worst forms of abuse on the Cuban people for 61 years.”

“Both Americans and Cubans alike value our independence and we seek to provide a better, more prosperous future for families, in realization of our God-given rights and dignity as individuals.  We salute the brave Cubans who carry on this struggle despite the threats and abuses of the Castro regime:  human rights defenders like José Daniel Ferrer and the Ladies in White; and journalists and truth-tellers like Roberto Quiñones, who by shining light on conditions in Cuba prevent the regime from hiding the truth.  We salute those demanding the right to exercise their faith in peace, like Pastors Ayda Expósito Leyva and Ramón Rigal, who chose to provide their children with a faith-based home-school education but were imprisoned for doing so.  These brave individuals, and many more who are unjustly imprisoned for their beliefs, or who daily face threats and abuse for standing up for what is right, are the true heirs to José Martí.”

“The United States stands with the Cuban people as you struggle to achieve your vision of a Cuba that is free and more just.  The day when your dream of freedom becomes reality is decades overdue, but that day will come.”

Cuba’s Responses[3]

An immediate response came in Tweets from Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He said, “The US Secretary of State is lying. Cubans do not commemorate this date, only remembered by the anti-Cuban groups which, from South Florida and with the broad support of the White House, still maintain annexationist interests and domination over Cuba.”

This thought was echoed by Rodrigo Malmierca, the head of Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment: Pompeo’s statement towards the Cuban people was “historical and politicized manipulation.”

In response to a similar message by President Trump in 2017, the Cuban government stated, “what was born on the day [May 20, 1902] was a Yankee neo-colony, which lived on until [the revolution on] January 1, 1959.”

Historical Context

This dispute over the “true” date for Cuba’s independence has been going on since at least 1959. The U.S. continued insistence on May 20 as the correct date is driven by U.S. hostility towards Cuba ever since the military defeat of the Cuban government by Fidel Castro-led rebels on January 1, 1959 (except for the period of normalization of relations led by President Obama,  December 2014—January 2017). An examination of history is necessary to understand this conflict.

May 20, 1902[4]

On April 24 and 25, 1898, Spain and the U.S. declared war against each other after the explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor. The U.S. Senate’s authorization of that declaration included the Teller Amendment, which disclaimed any “inclination or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction or control” of Cuba and the U.S. intention to “leave the government and control of the island to its people.” Thereafter the U.S. entered Cuba’s war of independence from Spain, which formally was ended on December 10, 1898 with the Treaty of Paris whereby Spain ceded Cuba (and Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines) to the U.S. Cuba was not a party to that treaty.

Thereafter, the U.S. assumed military control of Cuba. On May 20, 1902, the supposed date of Cuban independence arrived when the U.S. flag was lowered in Havana and the new Cuban flag was raised. This was after the U.S. adoption in early  1901 of the Platt Amendment, whose terms Cuba on December 25, 1901, reluctantly included in its constitution granting the U.S. the right to intervene in Cuba to preserves its independence and imposing other restrictions on Cuba.

These provisions of the Cuban constitution existed until 1934 when the U.S. and Cuba executed a treaty allowing Cuba to delete them from its constitution.

October 10, 1868[5]

This is Cuba’s real Independence Day (Dia de la Independencia) when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the “Father of the Homeland,” gave freedom to his slaves and started the first war of independence against the Spanish colonial power.

July 26, 1953 [6]

This is the Day of the National Revolution (Dia de la Rebeldia Nacional) to commemorate the day that the Cuban rebels started the Cuban revolution with an attack led by Fidel Castro on the Cuban Government’s Moncada Military Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. The rebels lost that battle, Fidel was captured,, tried, convicted, imprisoned and eventually exiled to Mexico, from which he successfully returned to Cuba in 1956 aboard the boat Granma and thereafter orchestrated the successful overthrow of the Batista regime on January 1, 1959.

July 26th, therefore, was chosen as the date for a speech in Matanzas, Cuba in 1991 by Nelson Mandela only a year-and-a half after his release from prison in South Africa.

January 1, 1959 [7]

This is the Triumph of the Revolution (Triunto de la Revolución) public holiday to commemorate the triumph of the revolution led by Fidel Castro.

Conclusion

Yes, on May 20, 1902, Cuba officially ceased to be a colony of Spain. But on that same date Cuba became a neo-colony of the U.S. or a territory under a de facto U.S. protectorate. It, therefore, is an insult for the U.S. to use grandiose language to proclaim that date as Cuba’s independence day.The U.S. should stop doing so.

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[1] White House, Presidential Message on Cuban Independence Day, 2020 (May 20, 2020); White House, President Trump’s Video Statement on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, [Pompeo’s} Press Statement: Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2020.  Secretary Pompeo also issued tweets with the same theme. (Bruno Rodríguez: May 20 is celebrated by those who ‘keep claims of imperialist domination over Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (May 21, 2020).)

[3] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Bruno Rodriguez affirms Cubans don’t celebrate May 20th (May 20, 2000); Bruno Rodríguez: May 20 is celebrated by those who ‘keep claims of imperialist domination over Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (May 21, 2020); Center for Democracy in Americas, U.S.-Cuba News Brief (May 22, 2020).

[4]  U.S. Entry Into Cuban War of  Independence and Establishment of Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (April 23, 2017); U.S. DeFacto Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 27, 2019); Pérez, Cuba Between Empires, 1898-1902 (Univ. Pittsburgh Press 1983).

[5] Public Holidays in Cuba, Wikipedia. [This section was added to the original post after comments from several readers pointed out errors regarding its characterization of July 26th in Cuba.]

[6] Ibid.; Cuban Revolution, Wikipedia; Nelson Mandela Was Inspired by Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2018). [This section was revised after several readers pointed out errors regarding its characterization of July 26th in Cuba.]

[7] Public Holidays in Cuba, Wikipedia. [This section was added to the original post to complete the account of most of the major political holidays in Cuba.]

 

U.S. Senate Committee Demands Cuba To Release José Daniel Ferrer

As previously reported in this blog, last year on October 1 Cuban activist José Daniel Ferrer was arbitrarily arrested and detained without charges and subjected to cruel treatment in jail despite protests from the U.S. the European Union and human rights groups. This year, on February 22, he finally was tried for the alleged crimes of injury and deprivation of liberty to third parties and attack, and on April 3 the court pronounced him guilty of assault and kidnapping and sentenced him to four and a half years in prison, but simultaneously released him to house arrest on condition he refrain from any political activities.[1]

On May 21, 2020, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted a resolution calling for Cuba to immediately and unconditionally release Ferrer.[2]

The resolution was offered by Senators Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ), Dick ‘Durbin (Dem., IL), Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), Tim Kaine (Dem., VA), Marco Rubio (Rep. FL), Ted Cruz (Rep., TX) and Susan Collins (Rep., ME). Here are some of their comments about the resolution:

  • Senator Menendez said he was proud of the resolution, which also “condemns the continued oppressive tactics of the Cuban regime. “
  • Senator Rubio added, “”For a long time, the members of UNPACU have been the target of aggressions by the Cuban regime,” while stressing that Ferrer was arbitrarily detained for “eight months with unsubstantiated allegations and currently remains under house arrest by the dictatorship of Castro and Díaz-Canel.”
  • Senator Durbin: “While the world is facing a global pandemic, the Cuban government continues to harass and imprison its own people, whose only crime is to want a more open nation.”
  • Senator Collins: “José Daniel Ferrer is a committed and open defender of democracy who has repeatedly risked his freedom and his life to promote the freedom of his fellow citizens. Our bipartisan resolution expresses the solidarity of the Senate with Mr. Ferrer’s valiant fight for democratic principles, condemns the unjust actions of the Cuban authorities and calls for his immediate and unconditional release. “

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Cuba and Denounces Cuba’s Detention of Dissident (Oct. 19, 2019); Secretary Pompeo Demands Release of Cuban Dissident (Feb. 27, 2020); José Daniel Ferrer Tried for Common Crime in Cuba (Feb. 28, 2020); Ferrer Sentenced to Prison and Then Released to House Arrest (April 4, 2020).

[2]  Senate Foreign Relations Comm., S. Res. 454 (Dec. 12, 2019); Senate Foreign Relations Comm., Menendez, Colleagues Applaud Approval of  Senate Bipartisan Resolution Calling for the Release of Cuban Activist Jose Daniel Ferrer (May 21, 2020); Senator Cruz, Press Release: Sens. Cruz, Menendez, Colleagues Applaud Approval of Senate Bipartisan Resolution Calling for the Release of Cuban Activist Jose Daniel Ferrer (May 22, 2020); The US Senate demands the definitive and unconditional release of José Daniel Ferrer, Diario de Cuba (May 22, 2020).

 

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (#16): Immense Increase in Global Poverty

The World Bank “says that for the first time since 1998, global poverty rates will rise. By the end of the year, 8 percent of the world’s population — half a billion people — could be pushed into destitution, largely because of the wave of unemployment brought by virus lockdowns, the United Nations estimates.”[1]

While everyone will suffer, “the developing world will be hardest hit. The World Bank estimates that sub-Saharan Africa will see its first recession in 25 years, with nearly half of all jobs lost across the continent. South Asia will likely experience its worst economic performance in 40 years. Most at risk are people working in the informal sector, which employs two billion people, many of whom are women, who have no access to benefits like unemployment assistance or health care.”

“The financial shock waves could linger even after the virus is gone, experts warn. Countries like Bangladesh, which spent heavily on programs to improve education and provide health care, which help lift families out of destitution, may now be too cash-strapped to fund them.”

Abhijit Banerjee, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize for economics, said, “These stories, of women entering the workplace and bringing their families out of poverty, of programs lifting the trajectories of families, those stories will be easy to destroy. There will be groups of people who climbed up the ladder and will now fall back. There were so many fragile existences, families barely stitching together an existence. They will fall into poverty, and they may not come out of it.”

“The gains now at risk are a stark reminder of global inequality and how much more there is to be done. In 1990, 36 percent of the world’s population, or 1.9 billion people, lived on less than $1.90 a day. By 2016, that number had dropped to 734 million people, or 10 percent of the world’s population, largely because of progress in South Asia and China.”

“Famines that once plagued South Asia are now vanishingly rare, the population less susceptible to disease and starvation. But that progress may be reversed, experts worry, and funding for anti-poverty programs may be cut as governments struggle with stagnant growth rates or economic contractions as the world heads for a recession.”

Responding to this crisis, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Ably Ahmed, proposes that global creditors immediately should cancel the bilateral and commercial debt of low-income countries. This will free up resources that “will save lives and livelihoods in the short term, bring back hope and dynamism to low-income economies in the medium term and enable them to continue as the engines of sustainable global prosperity in the long term.”[2]

The Prime Minister claims that in 2019, “64 countries, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, spent more on servicing external debt than on health.”

His own country, Ethiopia, “spends twice as much on paying off external debt as on health. We spend 47 percent of our merchandise export revenue on debt servicing. The International Monetary Fund described Ethiopia as being at high risk of external debt distress.” In short, “The dilemma Ethiopia faces is stark: Do we continue to pay toward debt or redirect resources to save lives and livelihoods? Lives lost during the pandemic cannot be recovered; imperiled livelihoods cost more and take longer to recover.”

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[1] Abi-Habib, Millions Had risen Out of Poverty. Coronavirus Is Pulling Them Back, N.Y. Times (April 30, 2020).

[2] Ahmed, Why the Global Debt of Poor Nations Must Be Canceled, N.Y. Times (April 30, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 12): Threats to Humanity’s Survival 

The current COVID-19 pandemic, at its worst, is a threat to humanity’s survival. Other such threats have been identified by the Commission for the Human Future, an Australian  organization of researchers and citizens “committed to promoting solutions to threats facing humanity and the Planet.”[1] Here are the ten such risks they identify:

  • “Decline of key natural resources and an emerging global resource crisis, especially in water.”
  • “Collapse of ecosystems that support life, and the mass extinction of species.”
  • “Human population growth and demand, beyond the Earth’s carrying capacity.”
  • “Global warming, sea level rise and changes in the Earth’s climate affecting all human activity.”
  • “Universal pollution of the Earth system and all life by chemicals.”
  • “Rising food insecurity and failing nutritional quality.”[2]
  • “Nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction.”
  • “Pandemics of new and untreatable disease.”
  • “Advent of powerful, uncontrolled new technologies”
  • “National and global failure to understand and act preventively on these risks.”

Their report then sets forth the following “pathways” that “we must adopt in order to make the solutions possible and achievable:”

  • “[R]estore: trust in our political class; greater equity across society; science as a factual basis for policy; the capability of the public service to develop and advise government impartially and the capability and effectiveness of diplomacy. We must also encourage the public to demand long-term solutions to fundamental problems, not just short-term ‘fixes.”
  • “[S]olutions [should be] inclusive of voices outside of science, business, government and the traditional centres of power. This means especially including the voices of women, of youth, of First People the world over, of minorities, the poor and physically isolated. We need to recognise, hear and share, their views, values and solutions. We need to know there are other ways to solve these threats than through political, military or economic conquest.”
  • “[R]edefine ‘security’ to a concept that begins with the personal safety and well-being of all citizens”
  • “[W]e need a natural world that is capable of sustaining not only humans, but all the other species, habitats and ecosystems which support life on our Planet. . . . {O]ur system must still produce enough food for all people, along with a reasonable and equitable standard of living.”
  • “[S]ound education in living healthily and sustainably, within the limits of our planet, will be indispensable to humans surviving and thriving in this, the Century of our greatest risk. Every citizen of Earth must understand their role and their responsibility in making our future safe and our wellbeing secure.”
  • “We need . . . to institutionalise in government and businesses, processes for understanding and assessing long term risk, planning for and preventing it. This involves a greater respect for scientific evidence and taking full account of the costs of inaction as well as the costs of action.”
  • We need “to develop a new science – the science of human survival and wellbeing. A holistic approach to human survival requires a new scientific vision, to objectively understand the threats we face and how to solve them all, without making any of them worse.”
  • We must “increase public understanding of the evidence for catastrophic risk and decrease the volume of misinformation and public deceit released by special interests and their followers..”
  • [H]umanity is facing an existential emergency. This means that we are going to have to develop unconventional ways of developing the human system as it cannot be solved by clinging to old ways of thought.”

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[1]  Cox, Ten threats to humanity’s survival identified in Australian report calling for action, Guardian (April 21, 2020); About the Commission for The Human Future; Commission for the Human Future, Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century (April  2020).

[2]  “The [current] coronavirus pandemic has brought hunger to millions of people around the world. National lockdowns and social distancing measures are drying up work and incomes, and are likely to disrupt agricultural production and supply routes — leaving millions to worry how they will get enough to eat. . . . Already, 135 million people had been facing acute food shortages, but now with the pandemic, 130 million more could go hungry in 2020, said Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. Altogether, an estimated 265 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by year’s end. . . . The pandemic is also slowing efforts to deal with the historic locust plague that has been ravaging the East and Horn of Africa. The outbreak is the worst the region has seen in decades and comes on the heels of a year marked by extreme droughts and floods. But the arrival of billions of new swarms could further deepen food insecurity, said Cyril Ferrand, head of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s resilience team in eastern Africa.” (Dahir,  ‘Instead of Coronavirus, the Hunger Will Kill Us.’ A Global food Crisis Looms,  N.Y. Times (April 22, 2020).)

 

Comments on Cuba by the U.S. Commander of U.S. Southern Command       

On April 17, Admiral Craig S. Faller, the Commander, U.S. Southern Command, gave a special briefing focused on “the enhanced counternarcotics operations led by [the U.S. Defense Department’s] Southern Command,” which “is responsible for providing contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation in its assigned Area of Responsibility which includes Central America, South America and the Caribbean (except U.S. commonwealths, territories, and possessions) and for the force protection of U.S. military resources at these locations.” .” [1]

Most of the comments were about Venezuela, but in his opening remarks the commander said, “[T]he security of the Western Hemisphere is [affected by] external state actors and  . . . malign actors like Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Iran and others – external state actors that don’t share the democratic values, and they thrive on the instability created by transnational criminal organizations.”

Thereafter, the Commander did not give a direct answer to a question from a journalist from the Miami Herald about whether there was any evidence that Cuba was involved in drug trafficking with Venezuela. Instead, the Commander said, “[T]he connection between the illegitimate Maduro regime and Cuba is strong and thick, thick as ticks, and Maduro owes his position in power to the Cuban influence, and it surrounds him.  His presidential guard is primarily Cuban; the intelligence service is completely infiltrated by Cubans.  So, at the end of the day, as Special Representative Abrams has stated, Maduro must go and the Cubans must be out.  And their influence is strong, so there’s a strong connection between the Maduro government and Cuba, and by propping up the Maduro regime, Cubans have supported the illicit activities that Maduro is involved in, undoubtedly.”

Nor did he directly answer a follow-up question from another journalist as to whether there was any evidence that Cuba was trafficking drugs with Venezuela. The  Commander essentially repeated his earlier answer by saying, “So as I stated, the relationship between Cuba and Venezuela is extremely close, and there are thousands . . . of Cubans in Venezuela supporting the Maduro regime: the intelligence services, the protective services.  And so the extent to which Maduro owes his survival to his Cuban patronage is clear and unambiguous, and so undoubtedly Cuba is aware of the illicit activities that Maduro is conducting through narcotrafficking, through mining, through the myriad of ineffective state-run enterprises that steal from the Venezuelan people.  So there’s just no way that there’s not a connection in all respects. [However, he could not reveal details of the intelligence.] But as Special Representative Abrams has stated, Maduro must go and the Cubans are a key piece of making that happen.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Telephonic Press Briefing with Admiral Craig Faller, Commander, U.S. Southern Command (April 17, 2020).

 

U.S. State Department Announces Funding Opportunities for Cuba Proposals         

On April 17, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announced it was accepting applications for “proposals that align with the U.S. government policy to promote human rights in Cuba as stated in the June 16, 2017 National Security Presidential Memorandum—entitled “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba” —as well as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act and other relevant legislation.” [1]

Requirements for Applicants

Eligible applicants are  “U.S.-based and foreign-based non-profit organizations/nongovernment organizations (NGO) and public international organizations; private, public, or state institutions of higher education; and for-profit organizations or businesses.  DRL’s preference is to work with non-profit entities; however, there may be some occasions when a for-profit entity is best suited. In addition, applicants must have “proven capacity to implement foreign assistance programs to protect and promote internationally recognized human rights in Cuba” and the “existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with thematic or in-country partners, entities, and relevant stakeholders, including private sector partners and NGOs, and have demonstrable experience in administering successful and preferably similar projects. “

The Department anticipates making three to five awards with a “Funding Floor” of $500,000 and “Ceiling” of $2,000,000.

The Department’s Context for Proposals

“For more than sixty years, the Cuban regime has denied its citizens many of the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Political participation, freedom of association and peaceful assembly are restricted through tightly controlled, undemocratic elections and by withholding legal status from independent civil society organizations, labor unions, and diverse political parties or movements. The free flow of information and freedom of expression are suppressed by blocking the Cuban peoples’ access to media outlets, and by censoring independent journalists, artists, and other individuals with alternative views. As connectivity slowly increases, the government is also expanding measures to surveil and harass citizens online to further inhibit the free flow of information and to prevent activists from connecting with broader audiences in and outside Cuba.”

“The Cuban government also abuses freedom of religion or belief by restricting the ability of faith communities to congregate and worship outside of the state-sanctioned Council of Churches. Cuban state security regularly threatens, harasses, arbitrarily arrests, detains, and restricts the movement of human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists on-island. Human rights organizations report more than 100 prisoners of conscience in Cuban prisons, most sentenced under fabricated charges like “contempt” of Cuban authorities or “pre-criminal social dangerousness.” This repression is financed in large part by the labor exploitation of medical workers and other service providers, who receive only a fraction of the salaries paid by third countries for their services and often face threats from their Cuban government handlers to discourage them from absconding. Despite these systemic efforts by the regime to maintain strict control over all facets of cultural, political and socio-economic life in Cuba, independent civic groups, journalists, artists, entrepreneurs, and others are increasingly advocating for more inclusive economic and political institutions.”

“DRL programs in Cuba aim to strengthen the capabilities of on-island, independent civil society to advance the above-mentioned rights and interests of all individuals in Cuba, and to overcome the limitations imposed by the Cuban government on the exercise of these civil and political rights.  DRL also strives to ensure its projects advance principles of non-discrimination with respect to race, religion, gender, disability, and other individual characteristics.”

“DRL seeks proposals that support Cuban-led initiatives that promote the human rights of all in Cuba—particularly the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, expression, political participation and religion and belief—and strengthen and expand the reach of those initiatives in Cuba by focusing on issues that resonate with Cuban citizens. Competitive proposals may also support the documentation of human rights abuses, including for use in domestic and international advocacy, and increase the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.  Proposals should offer a specific vision for contributing to change while acknowledging and developing contingencies for challenges to program implementation. Proposals should demonstrate consultative dialogue with local Cuban partners and present sound strategies to develop organizational capacity and foster collaboration among diverse segments of Cuba’s independent civil society.  Proposals should also include concrete initiatives that address recent developments on the island and have the potential to generate short-term impacts while leading to long-term sustainable change. (Emphasis added.)

“DRL prefers innovative approaches rather than projects that simply duplicate or add to ongoing efforts by other entities.  This does not exclude projects that clearly build on existing successful projects in a new way.  DRL encourages applicants to foster collaborative partnerships with each other and submit a combined proposal in which one organization is designated as the lead applicant.  The applicant should also demonstrate experience programming effectively within Cuba and/or within other closed society environments.  Most importantly, the applicant should clearly demonstrate that the proposed activities emanate directly from needs expressed by Cuban civil society organizations.”

“Successful applications in the past have proposed activities reflective of the skills, knowledge, and linguistic capabilities of target beneficiaries.  Successful applications have also considered practical limitations of groups’ and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities and strive to ensure that beneficiary organizations will continue to function while certain members are participating in off-island activities.” (Emphases added.)

DRL also has a long list of activities that “typically are NOT considered: “The provision of humanitarian assistance; English language instruction; Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware; Purely academic research, exchanges, or fellowships; External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than six weeks; Off-island activities that are not clearly linked to in-country initiatives and impact or are not necessary for security concerns; Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues, including projects aimed primarily at research and evaluation for publication that do not incorporate training or capacity-building for local civil society;  Micro-loans or similar small business development initiatives; Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or fail to provide clear evidence that activities will achieve the stated impact; Initiatives directed towards a diaspora community rather than current residents of Cuba; [and] Activities that are a duplication of other ongoing USG-funded projects in Cuba.”

Finally there will be no funding of “programs . . . that support the Cuban government, including Cuban government institutions, individuals employed by those institutions, or organizations controlled by government institutions.”

Conclusion

This is yet another of the weird and misguided U.S. public announcements of U.S. government-financed unilateral programs in Cuba without the cooperation of the Cuban government and indeed with the latter’s opposition and hence the need for these programs to be under-cover. The Department, therefore, highlights the need for applications to consider “contingencies for challenges to program implementation” and the “practical limitations of groups’ and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities.” In short, this is a fatally flawed idea.

How would the U.S. government react if Russia were to publicly announce that it was soliciting proposals for under-cover hacking of the U.S. election of 2020?

This proposal also continues to embrace the flawed claims that Cuba “abuses freedom of religion or belief” and that Cuba’s foreign medical mission program constitutes illegal forced labor, as discussed in many previous posts to this blog.[2] This proposal also continues to fail to understand why a small, poor nation of 11 people has rational fears of its much larger and more powerful neighbor to the north with a long history of hostility towards the island.

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[1] State Dep’t, Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): DRL FY19: Cuba Proposals (April 17, 2020).

[2] See these sections (“Cuban Human rights,” “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” and “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.”) in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.