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).

U.S. Announces $2 Million Grant to Cuba for Hurricane Ian Relief

On October 18,  the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. through the U.S. Agency for International Development will be providing $2 million of emergency relief for those in Cuba suffering from Hurricane Ian.[1]

Said the State Department, the U.S. “will work with trusted, independent organizations operating in the country who have a long presence in hurricane-affected communities. We are currently reviewing applications from organizations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to provide this assistance.”

The statement added, “We stand with the Cuban people as they work to recover from this disaster. The United States will continue to monitor and assess humanitarian needs in coordination with our trusted partners and the international community, and we will continue to seek ways to provide meaningful support to the Cuban people, consistent with U.S. laws and regulations.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez immediately expressed appreciation for this grant. He said on twitter, this aid would “contribute to our recovery efforts and support [for] those affected by the ravages” of the storm.

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[1] U.S. State Department, Press Statement: U.S. Support for Hurricane Ian Recovery Efforts in Cuba (Oct. 18, 2022); DeYoung, U.S. will provide $2 million of hurricane aid in Cuba, Wash. Post (Oct. 18, 2020). See also Hurricane-Damaged Cuba Needs Immediate U.S. Recovery Help, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 2. 2022); Cuban Government Asks for U.S. Aid in Responding to Hurricane Ian Damages While Cubans Protest Over Continued Power Outages, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct.4, 2022); Comment: Still Waiting for U.S. Response to Cuban Request for Hurricane Aid, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 6, 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).

U.S. 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom

On June 2, 2022, the U.S. State Department released its 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom. It “describes the status of religious freedom in every country. The report covers government policies violating religious  denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. The U.S. Department of State submits the reports in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.”[1]

The Report includes these sources on the subject: (a) Universal Declaration of Human Rights; (b) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (c) Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief; (d) Religious Freedom Provisions, Commitments, and Obligations from Regional Bodies and Instruments; (e) Department of State Training Related to the International Religious Freedom Act-2021; (f) Department of Homeland Security and the International Religious Freedom Act; and (g) Overview of U.S. Refugee Policy—2021.

There is no overall summary of this freedom in 2021 throughout the world. Instead, as the above summary indicates, the report has separate reports for “every country” in the world. After a summary of its report on Cuba, which is chosen because a Minneapolis church, Westminster Presbyterian, has had partnerships with the island’s Presbyterian-Reformed Church since 2002, there will be general comments from that Cuban church and Westminster.

State Department Report on Cuba

Cuban Religious Demography

According to the Report, “The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11 million (midyear 2021).  There is no independent, authoritative source on the overall size or composition of religious groups.  The Catholic Church estimates 60 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.  Membership in Protestant churches is estimated at 5 percent.  According to some observers, Pentecostals and Baptists are likely the largest Protestant denominations.  The Assemblies of God reports approximately 150,000 members; the four Baptist conventions estimate their combined membership at more than 100,000.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses estimate their members at 95,000; Methodists 50,000; Seventh-day Adventists 36,000; Presbyterians 25,000; Anglicans 22,500; Episcopalians 10,000; Anabaptists 4,387 (mostly Iglesia de Los Hermanos en Cristo, the Brethren of Christ); Quakers 1,000; Moravians 750; and the Church of Jesus Christ 357 members.  There are approximately 4,000 followers of 50 Apostolic churches (an unregistered, loosely affiliated network of Protestant churches, also known as the Apostolic Movement) and a separate New Apostolic Church associated with the New Apostolic Church International.  According to some Christian leaders, evangelical Protestant groups continue to grow in the country.  The Jewish community estimates it has 1,200 members, of whom 1,000 reside in Havana.  According to a representative of the Islamic League, there are approximately 4,000 Muslims in the country, of whom fewer than half are native-born.  The representative also said that the majority of the Muslim population is Sunni.  Immigrants and native-born citizens practice several different Buddhist traditions, with estimates of 6,200 followers.  The largest group of Buddhists is the Japanese Soka Gakkai; its estimated membership is 1,000.  Other religious groups with small numbers of adherents include Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Baha’is.”

“Many individuals, particularly Afro-Cubans, practice religions with roots across Africa, including Yoruba groups often referred to by outsiders as Santeria, but by adherents as the order of Lucumi or Orisha worship.  Bantu-influenced groups refer to themselves as Palo Monte.  These religious practices are commonly intermingled with Catholicism and other forms of Christianity, and some require Catholic baptism for full initiation, making it difficult to estimate accurately their total membership.  Rastafarian adherents also have a presence on the island, although the size of the community is unknown.”

Religious Freedom in Cuba

According to the Report’s Executive Summary, “The country’s constitution contains written provisions for religious freedom and prohibitions against discrimination based on religious grounds.  According to the religious freedom advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), through its Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), continued to control most aspects of religious life.  In its annual Watch List, Open Doors reported a continued rise in persecution of Christians in the country.  According to media, on July 11, security forces (a general term covering military, police, and vigilante forces) committed acts of violence against, detained, and harassed religious leaders from multiple faith communities who were participating in peaceful demonstrations across the country.  According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), security forces beat Roman Catholic priest Jose Castor Alvarez Devesa when he offered aid to an injured person at a protest in Camaguey on July 11.  CSW reported Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo faced up to a 10-year sentence for participating in a march the same day.  Rosales Fajardo was found guilty of charges in December and awaited sentencing at year’s end.  Sissi Abascal Zamora, a member of the Ladies in White opposition group, received a six-year sentence for participating in the July protests.  Authorities continued to subject members of the Association of Free Yorubas of Cuba (Free Yorubas) to arbitrary detentions, threats, physical violence, and verbal harassment.  The U.S.-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Global Liberty Alliance reported four members of Free Yorubas faced extended pretrial detention after their arrests following the July protests and prison sentences of up to 10 years.  The Spanish NGO Cuban Observatory of Human Rights registered at least 30 acts against leaders and laypersons from multiple faith communities as the government attempted to suppress public support for peaceful protests called for November 15.  According to NGO and media reports, those actions included the orchestration of demonstrations (acts of repudiation) in front of the homes of Catholic priests, police surveillance, internet cuts, and the harassment of a nun as she left her residence in Havana to meet a friend.  In August, security service officials arrested Apostolic Church pastor Alain Toledano Valiente for ‘propagating the COVID pandemic’ when he held what he said was a socially distanced service.  Religious groups reported the ORA and MOJ continued to deny official registration to certain groups, including to several Apostolic churches, or did not respond to long-pending applications, such as those for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).”

“Some religious groups and organizations, such as the Catholic charity Caritas, continued to gather and distribute relief items, providing humanitarian assistance to individuals regardless of religious belief.  The Catholic-affiliated Community of Sant’Egidio continued to hold prayer and small group meetings in spite of COVID-19 restrictions.”

“Due to a lack of government responsiveness, U.S. embassy officials did not meet with or otherwise engage the ORA during the year.  In public statements and on social media, U.S. government officials, including the Secretary of State, continued to call upon the government to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the freedom of religion.  Embassy officials met regularly with a range of religious groups concerning the state of religious freedom and political activities related to religious groups’ beliefs.”

“On November 15, 2021, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State again placed Cuba on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.”

Recent Devotion from Cuban Presbyterian-Reformed Church[3]

The Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba prepares daily devotions in Spanish (with English translations) that are available on the Internet. Here, for example, is their devotion for June 26, 2022, the 132nd Anniversary of the church: “Following Jesus (Luke 9:51-62).”

“Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

“A new section of the Gospel of Luke begins with these verses, Jesus’ resolve to travel to Jerusalem.   The three candidates for discipleship illustrate the demands that are implied by following Jesus; they teach that emotional enthusiasm is not sufficient and neither are we capable of abandoning all to follow him.”

“Loyalty to Christ takes precedence over any other loyalties.   In one of the cases the man tried to excuse himself by saying that he had to care for his dead father.   The spiritually dead should bury their dead, but the followers of Jesus should fulfill the urgent work of proclaiming the good news.   This is not an argument in favor of insensitivity but is a lesson against delay in fulfilling an order.”

“Jesus focuses his attention on one truth: to serve his cause demands complete dedication. To not be suitable for the Reign of God means a discipleship through which God is unable to use us in the best way.”

“What does Jesus want of us?   Complete dedication, not half delivery.   We don’t have the right to follow him at our convenience; we should accept the cross together with the crown, judgment together with mercy.   One must take into account the cost and to be ready to abandon everything.   We should not allow anything to distract us from the path of living what he calls good and true.”

“Prayer: Lord, allow us to be alert to your call and not continually excuse ourselves.   In the name of Jesus, Amen”

Report from Westminster Presbyterian Church[4]

“For more than 20 years, Westminster has had a partnership with people and institutions in Cuba, making it our longest global partnership. Well over 100 Westminster members and staff have visited Cuba to experience the culture, welcome, and resilience of the Cuban people. The situation in Cuba remains dire due to food shortages, economic despair, and political unrest. Yet, as of January 1, our partner church, El Redentor/Versalles (Versalles) in Matanzas has welcomed a new pastor, the Rev. Anays Noda, and her family. They bring a renewed energy and new members into the church.”

“After building renovation and much hard work, our siblings at Versalles are eagerly readying for visitors from Westminster. A group of five Westminster members plan to travel in July to revisit the seven clean water installations Westminster currently sponsors [on the island] and to assess a potential new site, anticipating installation later this year. A highlight of the trip will be a chance to worship in person again at Versalles. A congregational trip is also being planned for early 2023 offering a unique experience to witness God’s love this whole world over.”

Conclusion[5]

Any discussion of Cuban religious freedom should expressly recognize its enormous economic problems associated with the worldwide COVID pandemic and the resulting severe negative economic impact on Cuba’s market for international tourism and hence Cuban opportunities for employment and entrepreneurial activities. These and other developments, including the continued U.S. embargo of the island, have caused increased numbers of Cuban seeking to flee the island and protests on the island over desperate conditions.

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

[1] State Dep’t, 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom (June 2, 2022).

[2] Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 13, 2015}. See generally “Cuban Human Rights” section (with discussions of earlier U.S. reports on Cuban religious freedom) of  List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA [as of 5/4/20].

[3]   Daily Devotions of the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba (June 26, 2022).

[4]  Our Global Partners in Cuba, Westminster News (July 2022). This blogger treasures his having been on three Westminster mission trips to Cuba and the friendships he has developed with Cubans. (Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 13, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 4, 2015). See generally List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA [as of 5/4/20].

[5] See, e.g., Frank, Cuba sees slow economic recovery at 4% in 2022—Official, Reuters (Dec. 12, 2021); Cubans arriving in record numbers along Mexico border, Wash. Post (April 7, 2022); Cuba economic crisis and political crackdown pushes many to immigrate, Al Jazeera YouTube (May 2022); Cuban Migrants Arrive to U.S. in Record Numbers, on Foot, Not by Boat, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2022); With the world distracted, Cuba cracks down on dissident artists, Wash. Post (June 27, 2022)..

 

 

U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Cameroon Human Rights

On April 12, 2022, the U.S. State Department released its 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights. This report is the latest annual report for nearly five decades that “strive[s] to provide a factual and objective record on the status of human rights worldwide.” The 2021 report covers 198 countries and territories. [1]

Cameroon Human Rights[2]

Here is the outline of the details on the status of various human rights in each of the 198 countries and territories, including Cameroon:

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

  1. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
  2. Disappearance
  3. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading treatment or Punishment
  4. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
  5. Denial of Fair Public Trial
  6. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, Or Correspondence

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

  1. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
  2. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
  3. Freedom of Religion
  4. Freedom of Movement and the Right To Leave the Country
  5. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced People
  6. Protection of Refugees

Section 3.  Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Section 4.  Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Section 5.  Governmental Posture Towards International and           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Section 6.  Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Section 7. Worker Rights

Executive Summary of Cameroon Human Rights

The report on Cameroon begins with the following Executive Summary.

“Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The president retains power over the legislative and judicial branches of government. The ruling political party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, has remained in power since its creation in 1985. The country held legislative elections in February 2020 that were marked by irregularities. The ruling party won 152 of 180 National Assembly seats. Paul Biya has served as president since 1982. He was last reelected in 2018 in an election marked by irregularities.”

“The national police and the national gendarmerie are responsible for internal security. The former reports to the General Delegation of National Security and the latter to the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the Gendarmerie. The army shares some domestic security responsibilities; it reports to the minister delegate at the presidency in charge of defense. The Rapid Intervention Battalion reports directly to the president. Civilian and military authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.”

“Casualties rose in the Anglophone crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. Anglophone separatists used improvised explosive devices with greater success. ISIS-West Africa increased attacks in the Far North Region. The government continued to crack down on the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement, and in December several of its members were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from one to seven years following protests in 2020.”

“Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government and nonstate armed groups; forced disappearances by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government and nonstate armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including abductions and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nonstate armed groups; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigations and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults.”

“Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption, it did not do so systematically and rarely held public proceedings. Impunity remained a serious problem.”

“Armed separatists, Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, and criminal gangs also committed human rights abuses, some of which were investigated by the government.”

Conclusion[3]

Commenting on this report, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said governments around the world, including Russia and China, grew more repressive last year. One example was the increasingly brazen way governments were “reaching across borders to threaten and attack critics” while some governments such as Cuba, Egypt and Russia were quick to lock up critics at home. Blinken also noted there had been “a serious erosion of human rights” in Afghanistan.

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

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights (April 12, 2022).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cameroon (April 12, 2022).

[3] Crowley, U.S. Report Describes a Global Retreat on Human Rights and Democracy, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2022);U.S. State DRyan, Human rights and democracy eroding worldwide, U.S. finds, Wash. Post (April 12, 2022).

 

U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Cuban Human Rights

On April 12, 2022, the U.S. State Department released its 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights. This report is the latest annual report that for nearly five decades has striven “to provide a factual and objective record on the status of human rights worldwide.” The 2021 report covers 198 countries and territories. [1]

Cuban Human Rights[2]

Here is the outline of the details on the status of various human rights in each of the 198 countries and territories, including Cuba:

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

  1. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
  2. Disappearance
  3. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading treatment or Punishment
  4. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
  5. Denial of Fair Public Trial
  6. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, Or Correspondence

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

  1. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
  2. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
  3. Freedom of Religion
  4. Freedom of Movement and the Right To Leave the Country
  5. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced People
  6. Protection of Refugees

Section 3.  Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Section 4.  Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Section 5.  Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Section 6.  Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Section 7. Worker Rights

Executive Summary of Cuban Human Rights

The report on Cuba begins with the following Executive Summary.

“Cuba is an authoritarian state. The 2019 constitution codifies that Cuba remains a one-party system in which the Communist Party is the only legal political party. On April 19, President Miguel Diaz-Canel replaced former president Raul Castro as first secretary of the Communist Party, the highest political entity of the state by law. Elections were neither free nor fair nor competitive.”

“The Ministry of Interior controls police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police are the primary law enforcement organization. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses, and the number of political prisoners increased dramatically, with many held in pretrial detention under extremely harsh and degrading conditions.”

“On January 28, security forces violently arrested more than 20 artists and journalist peacefully protesting in front of the Ministry of Culture for the release of detained artists. On July 11, spontaneous peaceful protests broke out across the island. In the largest and most widespread demonstrations in decades, tens of thousands of citizens across the country poured into the streets to demand an end to repression as well as to criticize the government’s failure to meet their basic needs and its poor response to COVID-19. Social media posts helped spread news of the protests among citizens. Security forces responded with tear gas, beatings, and arrests. First Secretary of the Communist Party and President Miguel Diaz-Canel went on national television to call on “all revolutionaries and communists to confront these protests,” a reference to Article Four of the 2019 constitution, which gives citizens the right to “combat through any means, including armed combat” any who “intend to topple the political, social, and economic order established by this constitution.” Many of those arrested reported cruel and degrading treatment in prison. In October authorities denied permission for a protest planned for November 15 and threatened organizers. The government conducted summary trials for some protesters; sought long prison sentences, some up to 30 years, in hundreds of cases; and held other protesters in extended pretrial detention. Some activists chose to go into exile, and the government forced others to do so.”

“Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by the government; forced disappearance by the government; torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; reprisals against family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media including violence or threats of violence against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws used against persons who criticized government leadership; serious restrictions on internet freedom; severe restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly and denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections, including serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; a lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; and outlawing of independent trade unions.”

“Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses. As a matter of policy, officials failed to investigate or prosecute those who committed these abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread, as was impunity for official corruption.”

Conclusion[3]

Commenting on this report, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said governments around the world, including Russia and China, grew more repressive last year. One example was the increasingly brazen way governments were “reaching across borders to threaten and attack critics” while some governments such as Cuba, Egypt and Russia were quick to lock up critics at home. Blinken also noted there had been “a serious erosion of human rights” in Afghanistan.

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

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights (April 12, 2022).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba (April 12, 2022).

[3] Crowley, U.S. Report Describes a Global Retreat on Human Rights and Democracy, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2022).; Ryan, Human rights and democracy eroding worldwide, U.S. finds, Wash. Post (April 12, 2022).

 

U.S. Reviewing Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

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.[1]

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[2]

From 1982 through 2014, the U.S. designated Cuba as such a Sponsor.

U.S. Rescinds Cuba’s “Sponsor” Designation, 2015[3]

 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, 2016-20[4]

From 2015 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:

  • S.-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.
  • S., Cuba and Mexico signed a 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.
  • 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.”[5]

Secretary Pompeo’s Re-Designation of Cuba as “Sponsor”[6]

On January 11, 2021 (with only nine days left of the Trump Administration), 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.”

Biden Administration’s Review of Designation[7]

The latest change was announced on February 5, 2021 at press briefing by Ned Price, a State Department spokesperson, said, “[O]ur overall overarching policy when it comes to Cuba, and it’s a policy that will be governed by two principles. First is the support for democracy and human rights. It will be at the core of our efforts through empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future. And second, we believe that Americans, and especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba. We’re committed to making human rights a core pillar of our U.S. foreign policy. That certainly applies to Cuba, just as you’ve heard me reference it across the board, and includes redoubling our dedication to human rights throughout our own hemisphere.”

“Despite, human rights defenders around the world continue to look to the United States to – for support against authoritarian regimes. This is one of those issues that we will continue to rally our allies and partners against. And in the administration we’ve also committed to carefully reviewing policy decisions made in the prior administration, including the decision by the outgoing administration to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. I wouldn’t want to go into any further details. But as we take a look at this issue into our broader policy with Cuba, those principles will continue to be front of mind.”

In this context, it should be pointed out that there is a serious legal impediment to Cuba’s extraditing  some U.S. fugitives to the U.S.

Conclusion

This blogger strongly supports the Biden Administration’s decision to conduct such a review, as required by statutes, and trust that later it will conclude to rescind this designation.

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[1] State Dep’t, State Sponsors of Terrorism.

[2] Sullivan, CRS Report for Congress: Cuba and the State Sponsors of Terrorism List (Updated May 13, 2015).

[3] See these posts to dwkcommantaries.com: President Obama Rescinds U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” (April 15, 2015); U.S. Rescinds Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” May 29, 2015).

[4]  See thee posts to dwkcommenareis.com: United States and Cuba Hold Second Law Enforcement Dialogue (May 19, 2016); U.S. and Cuba Discuss Counterterrorism Cooperation (June 10, 2016); President Obama Issues Presidential Directive—United States-Cuba Normalization (Oct. 14, 2016); U.S. and Cuba Continue To Implement Normalization of Relations (Jan. 17, 2017); U.S. and Cuba sign Additional Agreements (Jan. 20, 2017).

[5] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries: No Mention of Cuba in U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Terrorism (July 22, 2017); No Mention of Cuba in New U.S. Report on Terrorism (Nov. 5, 2019).

[6] State Dep’t, U.S. Announces Designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism (Jan. 11, 2021); Crowley, Augustin & Semple, Pompeo Returns Cuba to Terrorism Sponsor List, Constraining Biden’s Plans, N.Y. Times (Jan. 11, 2021).

[7] State Dep’t, Press Briefing—February 5, 2021; Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 24, 2015); Criticism of the U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Agreement, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 21, 2017)

 

 

Strong Recommendation for New U.S. Policy for Engagement with Cuba

On December 17 a strong recommendation for a new U.S. policy for engagement was put forward by the Center for Democracy in the Americas and the Washington Office on Latin America.[1]

It sets forth the Case for Engagement; the First Nine Months of the Biden Administration (Repairing the Damage); The Second Year [of the Biden Administration] (Taking the Initiative); and Finishing the Job: A Legislative Agenda.

For example, here are the major points of its Case for Engagement that advance the interests of the U.S. and those of the Cuban people:

  • “Engagement begins with constructive diplomacy that includes cooperation on issues of mutual interest and negotiations on issues in conflict.”
  • “Engagement is a more effective strategy to advance the cause of human rights, political liberty, and economic reform.”
  • “Engagement must include civil society—cultural, educational, scientific, and familial linkages that foster mutual understanding, reconciliation, and cultural enrichment for both peoples.”
  • “Engagement will facilitate commercial ties, expanding the market for U.S. businesses, raising the standard of living for the Cuban people, and encouraging economic reform.”
  • “Engagement will serve as a counterweight to the aspirations that global competitors like Russia and China have in Cuba.”
  • “Engagement accomplished in two years more than the policy of hostility achieved in sixty years.”

The Center for Democracy in the Americas is “a non-partisan 501(c )(3) institution dedicated to promoting a U.S. policy toward the Americas based on engagement and mutual respect, fostering dialogue with those governments and movements with which U.S. policy is at adds, and recognizing positive trends in democracy and governance.” It was founded in 2008 by Sarah Stevens.[2]

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is “ a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas. We envision a future where public policies protect human rights and recognize human dignity, and where justice overcomes violence. WOLA tackles problems that transcend borders and demand cross-border solutions. We create strategic partnerships with courageous people making social change—advocacy organizations, academics, religious and business leaders, artists, and government officials. Together, we advocate for more just societies in the Americas.”[3]

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[1] Democracy in the Americas,  The United States and Cuba; A New Policy of Engagement (Dec. 17, 2020); Center Democracy in Americas, Joint Press Release. The Washington Office on Latin America and the Center for Democracy in the Americas publish “The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement” (Dec. 17, 2020); WOLA., The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement (Dec.2020).

[2] Center for Democracy in the Americas, Our Work.

[3] WOLA, About Us.