Vice President Mike Pence Addresses Disruption and Transformation in the Americas

On May 7, U.S. Department of State co-hosted the 49th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, which is designed to provide an  opportunity to hear from the most senior-level officials and engage with over 250 business and policy leaders, members of the diplomatic community, and media representatives from throughout the hemisphere. The theme of this year’s Conference was “disruption and transformation in the Americas.”

Vice President Pence’s Speech

At this Conference U.S. Vice President Mike Pence presented the Trump Administration position on these issues.[1] His focus was Venezuela,which he said was “the single greatest source of disruption.”  After reviewing that country’s significant events of the last year, Mr. Pence outlined the following new U.S. actions regarding Venezuela:

  • [At] “the President’s direction, the United States Navy will deploy the USNS Comfort to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America this June. The Comfort will embark on a 5-month humanitarian mission to address the Venezuelan crisis.  The United States military and medical personnel, working alongside their counterparts across the region, will be there to provide medical assistance to communities in need and help relieve countries overwhelmed by the influx of the suffering people of Venezuela.” (However, before it can be deployed from its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, a staff of doctors, nurses and other medical staff has to be assembled.)
  • The U.S. has “ positioned more than 500 metric tons of food and humanitarian supplies on the Venezuelan border, ready for immediate distribution.  The American people have provided nearly $260 million in aid to support displaced Venezuelans and the host nations that support them so generously.”
  • “If the Supreme Court of Venezuela does not return to its constitutional mandate to uphold the rule of law, the [U.S.] will hold all 25 of its magistrates accountable for their actions.”
  • The U.S. “has sanctioned more than 150 government officials and state-owned businesses loyal to the dictator.”
  • But “these sanctions need not be permanent.” The U.S. “will consider sanctions relief for all those who step forward, stand up for the constitution, and support the rule of law — like General Manuel Cristopher Figuera, the former chief of the Venezuelan intelligence service, who just last week broke ranks with the Maduro regime and rallied to the support of the Venezuelan constitution and the National Assembly.  In recognition of his recent actions in support of democracy and the rule of law, . . .[the U.S.] is removing all sanctions on General Manuel Cristopher Figuera effective immediately.”
  • The U.S. “will help the fledgling Venezuelan democracy regain its footing.  We’ll build a brighter future after Maduro is gone — creating jobs, fighting poverty, and expanding opportunity.”
  • The U.S. “will continue to exert all diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition of democracy in Venezuela.  But to those who continue to oppress the good people of Venezuela, know this: All options are on the table.

Conclusion

There are at least two items of good news in Vice President Pence’s remarks. First, he did not say anything about any current U.S. plan to use any military force with respect to Venezuela. Second, the hospital ship to be deployed should be helpful to ordinary Venezuelans who have been deprived of adequate medical care.

The USNS Comfort (in the above photograph) is a non-commissioned hospital ship owned by the U.S. Navy and operationally crewed by civilians from the Military Sealift Command, consisting primarily of naval officers from the Navy’s Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Medical Service Corps, Nurse Corps and Chaplain Corps, and naval enlisted personnel from the Hospital Corpsman rating and various administrative and technical support ratings When fully staffed it can provide the following services: general surgery, ophthalmologic surgery, dermatology, medical evaluation and treatment, preventive medicine, dental screenings and treatment, optometry screenings, eyewear distribution and public health. In accordance with the Geneva conventions it and its crew do not carry any offensive weapons.[2]

Without referencing Pence’s speech, Spain’s acting foreign minister, Josep Borrell, on May 8 said that Venezuela needs “a peaceful, negotiated and democratic solution” to its problems and that Spain and other European countries “will continue to reject any pressure that borders on military intervention” in Venezuela.”  The U.S. repeated assertion that “all options are on the table” is like “a western cowboy” who is threatening to draw his gun.[3]

Again without specifically discussing the Pence speech, U.S. commentators offer another perspective. They say that Trump “has yet to articulate a coherent theory for when the United States should push for such change and when it should avoid it.” Instead, they say, “Trump’s approach to foreign intervention is largely ad hoc and idiosyncratic — driven less by ideology than by his hunger for foreign policy victories and confidence in his own deal-making skills.”[4]

This “lack of ideological coherence has played to the advantage of Secretary Pompeo and the national security adviser, John R. Bolton, two hawkish officials with strong interventionist tendencies,” who have used hawkish rhetoric regarding Venezuela, Cuba and Iran, for example. “Critics say the disconnect between Mr. Trump and his advisers is confusing the nation’s allies and heightening the risk of a military conflict.” [5]

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[1] White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at the Washington Conference on the Americas (May 7, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Lifts Sanctions on Venezuelan General Who Broke With Maduro, N.Y. Times (May 7, 2019); Assoc. Press, US to Send Hospital Ship to Help With Venezuelan Refugees, N.Y. Times (May 7, 2019).

[2] Southcom, Hospital Ship USNS Comfort in Latin America; Enduring Promise Medical Assistance MissionUSNS Comfort (T-AH-20), Wikipedia.

[3] Assoc. Press, The Latest: Spain Official: US Like a ‘Cowboy’ on Venezuela, N.Y. Times (May 8, 2019).

[4] Landler, With Mix of threats and Blandishments, Trump Bandies Policy of Regime Change, N.Y. Times (May 8, 2019).

[5] See n. 4 supra. See also U.S. Reactions to Failure of Juan Guiadó’s Attempt To Takeover Venezuelan Government, dwkcommentaries.com (May 6, 2019).

 

U.S. Reactions to Failure of Juan Guaidò’s Attempt To Take Over Control of Venezuela

Last week saw the failure of an attempt to take over the Venezuelan government by the country’s opposition leader and president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, and U.S. reactions to this development.

Failed Take Over[1]

On Tuesday morning (April 30),  Guaidó, with the support of his mentor (Leopoldo López), the director of the regime’s intelligence agency (Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera Manuel) and some low-ranking soldiers called for other officials and soldiers to join them in attempting to remove President Nicolás Maduro from power. Trump Administration officials—Trump himself plus Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton—publicly announced support for what they called “Operaciōn Libertad.”

By sunset that same day, however, it was clear that Mr. Guaidó had failed to persuade the military to rise up against Mr. Maduro. As a result, Leopoldo Lopez and family sought and obtained refuge in the Spanish Embassy while Figuera had fled the country.  The attempted takeover had failed.

Nevertheless, the following Saturday (May 3), Guaidó tried again to enlist Government officials and soldiers to join his movement. Again it failed.

In addition, by the end of the week, Venezuela’s Attorney General publicly announced that  everyone linked to the recent attempted coup had turned themselves into traitors to be prosecuted in accordance with the country’s constitution and laws. Already 18 arrest warrants have been issued, including one for Leopoldo Lopez in the Spanish Embassy.

Trump Administration’s Public Reactions[2]

Before the attempted takeover Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had focused on Russia’s alleged influence over Maduro and repeated that all options, including U.S. military intervention, were still on the table, while President Trump had issued a tweet attacking Cuba for supporting Maduro and promising new economic sanctions on the island.

Immediately after the events of April 30, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton and U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, publicly accused the Venezuelans minister of defense, Vladimir Padrino López, and two other regime leaders of backing out after having promised to remove Mr. Maduro and support Mr. Guaidó.

On Friday, May 3, President Trump added to this U.S. discombobulation with  a long telephone conversation with Russia’s Vladimir Putin on several topics. Afterwards Trump apparently accepted Putin’s assurances that Russia “is not looking at all to get involved [in Venezuela], other than he’d like to see something positive happen.” Trump added, “”And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid. Right now people are starving.” (This statement was obviously contradicted by what Secretary Pompeo and Bolton had been saying and by the Kremlin’s subsequent statement that Putin in his telephone conversation had condemned “outside interference in . . . [Venezuela’s] internal affairs” and added that “attempts to change the government in Caracas by force undermine prospects for a political settlement of the crisis.”)

Nevertheless, on Sunday, May 5, Secretary Pompeo appeared on several national television programs to reiterate the old and now discredited Administration talking points about Venezuela, which he reprised with journalists on his flight later on Sunday to Finland for the Arctic Council Ministerial.

On  ABC’s “This Week”, for example, Pompeo rejected the notion that there had been faulty U.S. intelligence over the apparent failure of Juan Guiadó’s call for a removal of Maduro. The Secretary said, Oh, no, not at all. This is the Venezuelan people attempting to re-establish their democracy. The United States has joined with them. We have supported the National Assembly’s choice. Juan Guaido is the interim president of the country. . . . [These] things sometimes have bumpy roads, to be sure, but Maduro can’t feel good. He’s ruling for the moment, but he can’t govern. There is enormous poverty, enormous starvation, sick children that can’t get medicine. . . . This is not someone who can be part of Venezuela’s future, and whether that change takes place today or tomorrow or a week from now, one can’t predict.”

Pompeo continued on ABC, “Our mission is to work with a large coalition, now 50 countries-plus, who are determined to restore democracy and then ultimately a productive economy to Venezuela. What we can do is provide support, get support from the Organization of American States, the Lima Group, the entire region, that understands that restoring democracy for the Venezuelan people is an imperative, and get them all to work together so that we get the outcome we’re looking for.”

In response to the ABC journalist’s direct question of whether “a U.S. military invasion of Venezuela  [was] really an option?’” Pompeo said, “Oh, make no mistake, we have a full range of options that we’re preparing for. That’s part of what we were doing on Friday [May 3] was making sure that when this progresses and a different situation arises that the President has a full-scale set of options: diplomatic options, political options, options with our allies, and then ultimately a set of options that would involve use of U.S. military. We’re preparing those for him so that when the situation arises, we’re not flat-footed.”

Another direct question on the ABC program was posed as to whether the President believes that he can intervene militarily without getting congressional authorization Pompeo responded, “I don’t want to speak to that. The president has his full range of Article 2 authorities, and I’m very confident that any action we took in Venezuela would be lawful.”General Joseph Dunford

Trump Administration’s Internal Reactions[3]

On May 1 the White House held an emergency session of senior national security advisors for discussion about Venezuela. Their discussions apparently included an “intense debate . . . over whether the U.S. military should be used to raise pressure on Maduro, with senior Pentagon officials warning an armed intervention would be counterproductive.” This meeting included Admiral Craig Faller, Commander of the Southern Command, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and other senior officials, including Marine General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats;  National Security Advisor John Bolton and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Another meeting occurred on Friday, May 3 with the same people.

The Southern Command reportedly has “given the White House an array of options for potential military action. . . . [including] U.S. naval exercises or deployments of warships outside Venezuelan waters, delivery of humanitarian aid into the country, and more military contacts with neighboring countries to try to enlist their support for joint action.” Admiral Craig Faller, the current head of Southern Command, said the Pentagon was also “carefully looking at plans” to expand an embargo on Cuba, as Trump suggested in a tweet this week, to erode Havana’s support for Maduro’s government.”

Evaluation of U.S. Policies Regarding Venezuela[4]

A former senior administration official with deep knowledge of the region described the failed coup as “ the Bay of Pigs II” — a reference to the failed U.S.-backed attempt to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro in 1961.

Several analysts have said that “the Trump administration has misread the dynamics of the Venezuela crisis. They said the White House underestimated Maduro’s resilience and fostered unrealistic expectations about the ease of regime change, partly by trusting apparently duplicitous Venezuelan military officials.” One of them, Michael Shifter, president of the nonpartisan Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank that specializes in Latin America, said, “They have made a series of terrible miscalculations,”

Shifter added,“The Trump administration’s repeated ultimatums, hints of military intervention and threats to blockade Cuba, all of which could backfire by eroding broad international diplomatic support for the anti-Maduro forces, and by goading the Venezuelan armed forces to rally around [Maduro].”

Another expert on Venezuela in the Washington Office on Latin Ameera, a nonprofit nongovernmental organization, David Smilde, said, “This is characteristic of the neoconservatives who are running foreign policy now. They think they can huff and puff and put forth strong rhetoric … and the foe will back down. But time and again, that doesn’t happen. The sociology of authoritarian governments is far more complex.”

A New York Times editorial correctly summed up the current status. U.S. military intervention, “repeatedly cited as a possibility by Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo, remains a terrible idea. However invested the Trump administration is in the ouster of Mr. Maduro, a direct intervention would find little support across a region with bad memories of American meddling, and would brand Mr. Guaidó as an American lackey.”

A different conclusion was reached by a Washington Post editorial. After reciting some of the Maduro regime’s horrible policies and actions, the editorial said, “Therefore, whatever its ultimate outcome or, indeed, its strategic wisdom, Tuesday’s uprising is not a ‘coup attempt,’ as the Maduro regime, echoed by too many people abroad, calls it. Rather, it is the latest in a series of legitimate and, for the most part, nonviolent efforts by Venezuelans, both civilian and military, to throw off an oppressive, toxic regime so that they can freely elect a legitimate government. Supporters of freedom and democracy should stand in solidarity with Mr. Guaidó and the many thousands of Venezuelans now bravely asserting their rights.” However, the editorial concluded, “By working closely with these [six South American nations that are backing Guaidó. . .  , and not by intervening militarily, the Trump administration may increase the chances that Mr. López’s declaration Tuesday — “It’s time to conquer freedom” — proves out.”

Conclusion

These recent events should put the kibosh on the  Southern Command’s “plan” of February 2018 for military invasion of Venezuela, as discussed in a prior post. One can only hope that another result could be the diminution of the influence  or actual ouster, of John Bolton as National Security Advisor.

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[1] Venezuela Crisis: Guaidó Calls for Uprising as Clashes Erupt, N.Y. Times (April 30, 2019); Zuñiga, Faiola & McCoy, Venezuela’s Maduro denies Pompeo’s claim that he sought to escape to Cuba after day of clashes left 1 dead, dozens hurt, Wash. Post (April 30, 2019); Reuters, Trump Threatens ‘Full’ Embargo on Cuba Over Venezuela Security Support, N.Y. Times (April 30, 2019); Rogers, Trump, Seeking to Put Pressure on Maduro, Threatens Full Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (April 30, 2019); Gearon & DeYoung, Trump threatens ‘complete embargo’ and ‘highest-level sanctions’ against Cuba over Venezuela, Wash. Post (April 30, 2019); Shifter & Binetti, Juan Guaidó’s Uprising Failed. What’s Next for Venezuela?, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2019); Fayola, How a plot filled with intrigue and betrayal failed to oust Venezuela’s president, Wash. Post (May 3, 2019); Venezuelan justice will act with weight against coup, says prosecutor, CubaDebate (May 4, 2019).

[2] Landler, Trump Says He Discussed the “Russian Hoax” in a Phone Call with Putin, N.Y. Times (May  3, 2019); Ballhaus & Salama, Trump & Putin Discuss Venezuela, North Korea, Mueller Report, W.S.J. (May 3, 2019); State Dep’t, [Secretary Pompeo] Interview With Jonathan Karl of ABC’s This Week (May 5, 2019); Demirjian & Sonne, Pompeo won’t promise to consult Congress about potential military intervention in Venezuela, Wash. Post (May 5, 2019); State Dep’t, [Secretary Pompeo’s] Interview With Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday (May 5, 2019); State Dep’t, [Secretary Pompeo’s] Interview With Margaret Brennan of CBS Face the Nation (May 5, 2019); State Dep’t, [Secretary Pompeo’s] Remarks to Traveling Press on Plane (May 6, 2019).

[3] Wilkinson & Cloud, White House scrambles on Venezuela after major setback, Los Angeles Times (May 2, 2019); Assoc. Press, Shanahan, Pompeo and Bolton Meet on Venezuela, N.Y. Times (May 3,2019); Specia, Five Things You Need to Know to Understand Venezuela’s Crisis, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2019).

[4] See n. 3 supra; Editorial, A Treacherous Stalemate in Venezuela, N.Y. Times (May 2, 2019); Editorial, Don’t call it a coup. Venezuelans have a right to replace an oppressive, toxic regime, Wash. Post (April 30, 2019).

Cuba Reveals Purported U.S. TOP SECRET Document for Overthrow of Venezuela’s Government

On April 30, 2019, Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, published a summary with selected quotations of a purported TOP SECRET U.S. plan to overthrow the Venezuelan government issued by the U.S. Southern Command.[1] According to Granma, this plan outlines “[s]teps to speed up the definite overthrow of Chavismo and the expulsion of its representatives.” According to Granma, this “plan” has the following sections: Parts I, II and III and Media Plan, which are set forth below.

This “plan” may have been overtaken by this week’s apparent failure of the attempt by Venezuelan leader Juan Guaidó to oust Maduro from power, which will be discussed in a future post.

“Part I of the Plan”

Part I of this plan, according to Granma, was “implemented before the Venezuelan elections last year, but did not succeed in overthrowing Maduro. It contains the following:

– “Increase internal instability to a critical level, by ‘intensifying the undercapitalization of the country, the leaking out of foreign currency and the deterioration of its monetary base, bringing about the application of new inflationary measures.’”

– “The document suggests exacerbating divisions between members of the government, emphasizing the difference between the population’s living conditions and those of their leaders, and making sure that these are exaggerated.”

– “Fully obstruct imports, and at the same time discouraging potential foreign investors in order to make the situation more critical for the population.”

– “Appeal ‘to domestic allies as well as other people inserted from abroad in the national scenario in order to generate protests, riots and insecurity, plunders, thefts, assaults and highjacking of vessels as well as other means of transportation with the intention of deserting the country in crisis through all borderlands and other possible ways, jeopardizing in such a way the National Security of neighboring frontier nations.’”

– “The plan emphasizes the importance of ‘causing victims’ and ‘holding the Venezuelan government responsible.’”

– “Promote internationally the idea that the country is facing a humanitarian crisis.”

-“ Spread lies about extensive government corruption.”

– “Link the government to drug trafficking to discredit the Maduro administration before the world and among Venezuelan supporters.”

-“ Promote ‘fatigue inside the members of the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), inciting annoyance and . . . [disunity?]among themselves, for them to break noisily from the government.’”

-:Design a plan to incite ‘the profuse desertion of the most qualified professionals from the country, to leave it with no professionals at all, which will aggravate even more the internal situation, and along these lines, putting the blame on the government.’”

“Part II of the Plan”

 

-“’Encourage dissatisfaction with the Maduro regime.’”

– “Highlight ‘the incompetence of mechanisms of integration created by the regimes of Cuba and Venezuela, especially the ALBA and PETROCARIBE, in order to tackle the situation of the country and its inability to find solutions to the problems that citizens are facing.’”

– “One section of the document is entitled: ‘Using the army officers as an alternative of definite solution.’”

– Continue preparing “conditions inside the Armed Forces to carry out a coup d’état before the end of 2018, if the crisis does not make the dictatorship collapse, or the dictator does not decide to move aside.’”

– “Continue ‘setting fire to the common frontier with Colombia, multiplying the traffic of fuel and other goods. The movement of paramilitaries, armed raids, and drug trafficking. Provoking armed incidents with the Venezuelan frontier security forces.’”

– “Recruit ‘paramilitaries, mainly in the campsites of refugees in . . . [three areas of Colombia], areas largely populated by Colombian citizens who emigrated to Venezuela and have returned.’”

“Part III of the Plan”

– “Prepare ‘involvement of allied forces in support of Venezuelan Army officers, or to control the internal crisis.’”

– “Establish ‘a speedy timeline that prevents the Dictator [Maduro] … winning control of the internal scenario.’”

– “Obtain support and cooperation from ‘friendly countries (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Guyana).’”

– “Organize ‘provisioning, relief of troops, medical and logistical support from Panama.’”

– “Make ‘good use’ of electronic surveillance and intelligence signals; of hospitals and equipment deployed in Darién (Panamanian jungle), Plan Colombia’s drone equipment, as well as the ‘landing fields’  at the former Howard and Albroock military bases in Panama; as well as those of Río Hato; and the United Nations Humanitarian Regional Center, designed for catastrophe situations and humanitarian emergencies, which has ‘an aerial landing field and its own warehouses.’”

– “Propose ‘moving on the basification of combat airplanes and choppers, armored conveyances, intelligence positions, and special military and logistics units, police, military district attorneys, and prisons.’”

– “Develop ‘the military operation under international flag, patronized by the Conference of American Armies, under the protection of the OAS, and the supervision, in the legal and media context of [OAS] General Secretary Luis Almagro.’”

– “Declare the ‘necessity of the continental command be strengthened to act, using the instrument of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, in order to avoid the democratic rupture.’”

– “’Binding Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Panama to contribute greater numbers of troops, to make use of their geographic proximity and experience in forest regions.’”

– “Strengthen the ‘international’ nature of the operation ‘with presence of combat units from the United States and the other named countries, under the command of a Joint General Staff led by the USA.’”

– “Promote ‘international participation in this effort, as part of a multilateral operation with contributions from States, Non-profit Organizations, and international bodies. Supplying the adequate logistic, intelligence, surveillance, and control support,’ anticipating as key geographical points . . .[six towns] in Colombia, and . . . [three] in Brazil.”

“Media Plan”

 “’Create within the country, via local and international media, the dissemination of messages designed and based on testimony and publications originating in the country, making use of all possible capacity, including social media.’”

– “’Justifying and assuring through violent means the international backup to the deposing of the dictatorship, displaying an extensive dissemination, inside the country and to the entire world, through all open means and the capacities of the psychological war of the U.S. Army.’”

– “Back up and ‘strengthen’ the image of the OAS, as a multilateral institution to resolve regional problems.”

– “Promote ’the request of a dispatch of a UNO military force for the imposition of peace, once Nicolas Maduro’s corrupt dictatorship is defeated.’”

Conclusion

The Granma article says this purported plan was revealed [discovered? pilfered?] by Argentine intellectual Stella Calloni. A simple Google search of her name revealed that she is an 84-year-old Argentine journalist who specializes in Latin American international politics.[2]

That same Google search discovered that on May 17, 2018, Calloni did publish an article about this purported TOP SECRET U.S. document on Voltaire.net.org.[3]

That article by Calloni in turn cited to a publication on that same website of what appears to be an actual copy of a TOP SECRET U.S. document of that title and that date and authored by Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command.[4]

The U.S. Southern Command, which is located in Doral, Florida,,  is one of ten Unified Combatant Commands (CCMDs) in the United States Department of Defense. It is responsible for providing contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation for Central and South America, the Caribbean (except U.S. commonwealths, territories, and possessions), their territorial waters, and for the force protection of U.S. military resources at these locations. USSOUTHCOM is also responsible for ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal and the canal area. According to Its stated mission, it  “deters aggression, defeats threats, rapidly responds to crises, and builds regional capacity, working with our allies, partner nations, and U.S. government (USG) team members to enhance security and defend the U.S. homeland and our national interests.”[5]

Admiral Kurt W. Tidd was the Commander of the Southern Command in May 2018 until he retired on November 26, 2018; the current Commander is Admiral Craig L. Faller. [6]

Although the Granma article purports to summarize an actual “TOP SECRET” document, there is no indication in this article or those by Calloni that this “plan” was actually adopted or approved by higher U.S. officials. And, as noted at the start of this post, this apparent “plan” may have been superseded by this week’s apparent failure of an attempt by Venezuelan leader Juan Guaidó to oust  Maduro from power, which will be discussed in a future post.

This blog has not compared, line-by-line, Granma’s English translation of the Plan with the apparent English-language original, but Granma’s version does track the apparent original. Nor has this blog attempted to determine whether there was any action on this apparent plan by higher officials in the Department of Defense or other agencies of the U.S. government.

Thus, this purported or apparent U.S. document raises, but does not resolve, disturbing issues.

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[1] U.S. master plan to destroy Bolivarian Venezuela, Granma (April 30, 2019).

[2]  Sierra, Calloni, chronicler of our time, Granma; Stella Calloni, Wikipedia; Stella Calloni, EcuRed: Cuban Encyclopedia.

[3]  Calloni, The United States “Master Stroke” against Venezuela, Voltaire.net.org (May 17, 2018). The Hong Kong-based Voltaire website says it was founded by French intellectual Thierry Meyssan as a “web of non-aligned press groups dedicated to the analysis of international relations . . . from diversified political, social and cultural backgrounds . . . and does not aim to promote a particular ideology or a world vision, but to hone the critical thinking of its readers . . . [and place] reflection before belief and arguments before convictions.”

[4]  Tidd, TOP SECRET: Plan to overthrow the Venezuelan Dictatorship—“Masterstroke,” Voltaire.net.org (Feb, 23, 2018).

[5] U.S. Defense Dep’t, U.S. Southern Command; United States Southern Command, Wikipedia.

[6] U.S. Defense Dep’t, Admiral Kurt W. Tidd; Kurt W. Tidd, Wikipedia; Inter-American Defense Board, Retirement Ceremony for Admiral Kurt W.Tidd and USSOUTHCOM Change of Command Ceremony (Nov. 29, 2018).

 

Cuba Foreign Minister Denounces U.S. Policies

On April 25, Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez held a press conference in Havana to issue his usual lengthy  statement, this time primarily to denounce U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s recent announcement of additional changes in U.S. policies regarding the  island nation.[1]

Whereas Bolton honored the survivors of the 1961 U.S. attack on the Bay of Pigs (Playa Girōn), Rodriguez reminded everyone that Cuba defeated that invasion.

Although Bolton said the Monroe Doctrine was “alive and well,” Rodriguez retorted, “No one should forget that the Monroe Doctrine has historically been associated with the use of force by US imperialism in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Rodríguez also said Bolton was a “pathological liar” for having unashamedly stated on April 17 that Rodriguez recently had acknowledged the presence of 20,000 Cuban thugs in Venezuela.

This lie, Rodriguez said, was repeated in a recent communique from the U.S. State Department to all of its embassies around the world asserting that the new U.S. measures of economic, political and communications blockade against Cuba were based upon the alleged presence of Cuban military and intelligence officers in Venezuela. According to Rodriguez, this U.S. document also instructed its ambassadors to urge other governments to publicly condemn Cuba’s behavior and to use all economic and diplomatic instruments against Cuba.

The Cuba Foreign Minister challenged Bolton and the U.S. to prove their statements that Rodriguez said were lies. Implicitly he was saying the U.S. could not do so and, therefore, should rescind such claims and apologize.

Rodriguez attacked the new U.S. restrictions on remittances as  not only hurting the interests and incomes of Cuban people, of every family that has those ties; they also harms the freedom and the right of people in the U.S.to send remittances to relatives or others in Cuba. These restrictions also will greatly damage the self-employed sector of the Cuban economy.

The U.S. activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, the Foreign Minister continued, “will damage Cuban entities and will generate greater difficulties and shortcomings for our people. Its declared goal is to suffocate the economy and punish the Cuban people.”

The Cuban diplomat stressed that despite the adverse economic impact that these measures will have, they will not alter Cuban resistance to this latest U.S. attempt to  overthrow the Cuban Revolution.

He claimed the U.S. foreign policy was a real threat to our hemisphere, to turn it into a zone of conflict from a region declared a zone of peace. Such a threat threatens international peace and security. Therefore, the international community needs to stop this folly and irresponsibility, to act before it is too late and to stop this dangerous escalation for the good of the peoples of Cuba, the U.S.,the region and all those of the planet. “The world cannot afford to remain impassive while it is summoned by threats to destroy countries with impunity as has happened in other regions of the planet..”

“Cubans trust in the force of truth, of law and of justice. We appeal to governments, parliaments, political forces, social, popular, protests, indigenous movements, representatives of civil society, writers and artists, academics, scientists, journalists, intellectuals. We await the action of the General Assembly of the United Nations, of the World Trade Organization and of other multilateral entities.

Rodriguez emphasized the vast difference in the sizes of the two countries. U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is more than 200 times that of Cuba, its territory is 89 times larger that of the Island, its population is 30 times greater,. Moreover,  the U.S. has a quarter of a million soldiers in 800 military bases in 80 countries and today acts as superpower on the planet.

Rodriguez said Cuba will continue to seek stronger relations with a wide array of U.S. interests, including businesses, in spite of what it regards as a “hostile” Trump administration and the tightening of American sanctions against the island.

“We will continue to expand our ties with all United States sectors … we will use all the tools on hand to intensify communication and cultural relations between our people. So, while the government of the United States attempts to shut off and tighten, Cuba will continue to be even more open to healthy relations,” he said.

Conclusion

On May 1 essentially the same message was delivered by the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Director for the United States, Johana Tablada.[2]

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[1] Cubans trust in the force of truth, of law and of justice..(Live Broadcast), Granma (April 25, 2019); Assoc. Press, Cuba Challenges US to Provide Proof of Venezuela charges, N.Y. Times (April 25, 2019); Reuters, Cuba Dubs Bolton ‘Pathological Liar’ Over Venezuela Troops Charges, N.Y. Times (April 25, 2019).

[2] Mojena, U.S. lies to justify further attacks on Cuba, Granma (May 2, 2019).

Critique of John Bolton’s Consistent Advocacy of Using Aggressive Force

On April 17, as criticized in a prior post, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton announced in Miami additional U.S. sanctions against Cuba on the anniversary of the 1961 failed U.S. invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (Playa Girõn).[1]

 

Now Dexter Filkins, an award-winning journalist, reminds us that Bolton has a deserved reputation as the  “Republican Party’s most militant foreign-policy thinker—an advocate of aggressive force who ridicules anyone who disagrees.”  Bolton also is a consistent opponent of multilateral institutions and treaties.

For example, In the George W. Bush Administration Bolton was Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs and a strong advocate for the 2001 U.S. invasion of Iraq. He re-endorsed that opinion in 2015 when he said, “I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct.”

In May 2002, still as Under-Secretary, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation he said the Cuban government was developing an ambitious biological weapons program and collaborating with Libya and Iran, all contrary to the opinion of  the State Department’s internal intelligence bureau.

Today he presumably would admit that Venezuela poses no immediate threat to the U.S., but believes it is dangerous because it was allowing Russia to gain a foothold in the region and because it has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. On the other hand, presumably he would not concede that U.S. hostile policies towards that country and Cuba were providing Russia with the opportunity to expand its influence in the region.

The Monroe Doctrine, Bolton recently admitted, is a prohibition against outside powers interceding in Latin America that does not include U.S. use of armed forces in the region. But the Roosevelt Corollary, he added, provides for that use of force, and Bolton says, “I haven’t invoked that—yet.”[2]

Given the Trump Administration’s currently not having a permanent Secretary of Defense and no Secretary of Homeland Security and Ambassador to the U.N., “Bolton would have extraordinary latitude in a crisis., and as long as Trump’s  base is applauding, then Bolton can do whatever he wants.”

Dexter Filkins, the author of this New Yorker article, has been called “the premier combat journalist of his generation” for his reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and a National Book Critics Award for his “The Forever War.”[3]

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[1] Filkins, John Bolton On the Warpath, New Yorker (May 6, 2019). See also, John Bolton’s New threat Against Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (April 2, 2019); U.S. National Security Advisor Announces New U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 3, 2018); Zakaria, Does a Trump doctrine on foreign policy exist? Ask John Bolton, Wash. Post (May 2, 2019) (Bolton has “a dark view of humankind” which requires the U.S. to be “aggressive, unilateral and militant;” and a “longtime fan of regime change”).

[2] State Dep’t, Office of the Historian, Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, 1904.

[3] Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker; Dexter Filkins, Wikipedia.

 

U.S. and Cuban Churches Denounce U.S. Embargo and Recent Additional U.S. Actions Against Cuba

On April 26 the National Council of  the Churches of Christ in the USA and the Cuban Council of Churches issued the following Joint Statement. [1]

“Today, Friday, April 26, the fifth day after Easter Sunday, we come together once again as two Christian ecumenical councils to affirm our faith and love in Jesus Christ. Like the disciples walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), we desire to walk together with the resurrected Christ and share with him the bread that he has blessed with us and for us.”

“Our Councils have prayed, walked and worked together for many years. We have done so not only to witness to all the blessings we have received from God as a fruit of our unity in love, faith, and hope, but also to testify to the power of the Holy Spirit in all times of challenge to our dream of bringing our peoples and nations together. We have stood for peace when many cried for war. We have taken a stand for family unity when others tried to divide our families.”

“Since 1968, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has called for normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, for the removal of the economic blockade [embargo] imposed on Cuba, and for removal of travel restrictions.”

“Today, after our two nations began to make significant progress toward normalized relations, we are facing a critical moment that threatens to erase the gains already made.  We, therefore, reaffirm our solidarity in Christ and stand together to:

  • Work together to end the blockade — rejected by the vast majority of United Nations member countries — which has an extraterritorial effect, and for normal relations between our people and nations;
  • Express our opposition to the Trump Administration’s addition of new restrictions on travel between Cuba and the United States;
  • Express our opposition to the decision by the Trump Administration to no longer maintain the suspension of Title III of the Helms-Burton legislation, an action that will further hinder the quality of life of the Cuban people and will create enormous and unnecessary legal problems worldwide;
  • Express our opposition to the limitation and restriction of family remittances from the United States to Cuba;
  • Advocate for the reopening and normalization of consular services between the two countries, on a humanitarian basis, since it will facilitate the access to visas and the normalization of relations among families and between our peoples.”

“Finally, these recent actions by the Trump Administration will hinder us as we pursue together God’s mission and will be another obstacle to develop further our relations, partnerships, and the spiritual growth of the churches in the United States and Cuba. We, therefore, call on the churches in our countries along with all our partner ecumenical bodies, faith-based organizations, and all people of good will in our region and around the world to join us in our advocacy, solidarity, and action for a better present and future for our two countries, churches and people.”

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ,
and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is,
in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,
not counting their trespasses against them, and
entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” 

– Corinthians 5:18-19 NRSV”

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, which was formally organized in 1950,  has 38 member communions with 45 million people in over 100,000 congregations.

The Cuban Council of Churches (CIC), which was founded in 1941, is the leading institution of the ecumenical movement in Cuba, with 52 churches and Christian institutions as members, including Protestants, Reformists, Evangelists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, and Orthodox; in addition to other ecumenical institutions and associate members.

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[1] National Council of Churches, Joint Statement: Facing a Critical Moment (April 26, 2019); Council of Churches of Christ of the United States and the Council of Churches of Cuba pronounce themselves against the blockade, Granma (April 28, 2019).

 

U.S. Needs To Cooperate with U.N. Human Rights Experts

The U.N. Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, Switzerland, has what it calls Special Procedures, which are “”independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. The system of Special Procedures is a central element of the United Nations human rights machinery and covers all human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political, and social. As of 1 August 2017, there are 44 thematic and 12 country mandates.”[1]

Recent U.S. Non-Cooperation with U.N. Human Rights Council

On January 4, 2019, the London-based Guardian newspaper published an article asserting that the Trump Administration “has stopped cooperating with UN investigators over potential human rights violations occurring inside America, in a move that delivers a major blow to vulnerable US communities and sends a dangerous signal to authoritarian regimes around the world.”[2]

More specifically, the Guardian said the U.S. State Department “has ceased to respond to official complaints from UN special rapporteurs, the network of independent experts who act as global watchdogs on fundamental issues such as poverty, migration, freedom of expression and justice. There has been no response to any such formal query since 7 May 2018, with at least 13 requests going unanswered..

In addition, the Trump Administration has not “extended any invitation to a UN monitor to visit the US to investigate human rights inside the country since the start of Donald Trump’s term two years ago in January 2017. (Two UN experts have made official fact-finding visits . . .[since then] – but both had been invited by President Obama].”[3]

The U.S. thereby has now joined the ranks of countries like North Korea, Iran and Eritrea that simply ignore the requests of UN human rights monitors.

 U.S. Senator Menendez Asks for State Department Explanation

Therefore, on April 25, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), the Ranking Member on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on this situation. The Senator started his letter by stating, “the work Special Rapporteurs conduct remains one of the international community’s most important tools for promoting and protecting human rights.”[4]

The letter continued,“Under previous Democratic and Republican administrations the United States welcomed visits by UN Special Rapporteurs and regularly responded to official queries, regardless of U.S. participation in the Human Rights Council at the time. Engaging with UN Special Rapporteurs is an essential part of U.S. global leadership and demonstrates our commitment to addressing complex human rights issues and the rule of law both at home and around the globe. The credibility of the work of UN Special Rapporteurs depends heavily on their ability to apply the same international standards to all countries, including democracies.”

“By shutting out UN Special Rapporteurs, the United States risks undermining a foundational value of the United Nations as well as human rights progress globally and will be seen as empowering repressive regimes, like China and Russia, who seek to delegitimize internationally accepted human rights norms. Though the United Nations is an imperfect body, UN Special Rapporteurs play an important role in advancing the fundamental human values traditionally championed by every previous U.S. Administration.”

Therefore, the Senator asked the Secretary to respond to the following questions by May 30, 2019:

1)     “Is there a policy, either formal or informal, in place with regards to responding to queries and visit requests from UN Special Rapporteurs? What is that policy?”

2)     “Since May 7, 2018, has the State Department responded either formally or informally to any queries or visit request from UN Special Rapporteurs? If yes, please provide detailed information, including: which UN Special Rapporteur the Department responded to, the date of last correspondence or engagement, the type of engagement (formal vs. informal) and copies of any formal responses.”

Conclusion

U.S. advocates for human rights here and around the world need to thank Senator Menendez for this request and urge Secretary Pompeo to stop this apparent practice or policy of non-cooperation with these human rights monitors.

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[1] U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

[2] Pilkington, US halts cooperation with UN on potential human rights violations, Guardian (Jan. 4, 2019); Goldberg, US ceases cooperation with UN Human Rights Special Rapporteurs, U.N. Hum. Rts. Council (Jan. 8, 2019).

[3] Apparently after President Trump became President, Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, visited the U.S. by President Obama’s invitation, and Alston’s final report in June 2018 was harshly criticized by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. (See U.N. Official’s Report About U.S. Poverty Is Criticized by U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (June 28, 2018).)

[4] Press Release, Menendez Questions Sec. Pompeo about State Department’s Apparent Decision to Cut Contact with UN Human Rights Experts (April 25, 2019).