More U.S. Actions Against Cuba

Last week the U.S. announced three more actions against Cuba: (1) sanctions on more Venezuelan vessels and entities transporting oil to Cuba; (2) U.S. travel restrictions on Raúl Castro and family; and (3) urging other countries to join the U.S. campaign against Cuba’s foreign medical mission program. Here are details about those U.S. actions followed by this blogger’s reactions to them.

Venezuelan Entities and Vessels Transporting Oil to Cuba [1]

On September 24, the U.S. “designated four companies that operate in Venezuela’s oil sector as sanctioned, and identified as blocked property four vessels associated with this activity.”

“This action further targets Venezuela’s oil sector and the mechanisms used to transport oil to Nicolás Maduro’s Cuban benefactors, who continue to prop up the former regime.  These sanctions are a follow-on to the designations and identifications announced on April 5 and 12 that targeted entities and vessels known to be involved in the transportation of crude oil from Venezuela to Cuba.”

“With this action, the sanctioned entities will be denied access to the U.S. financial system.  In addition, a freeze will be placed on these entities’ U.S. assets.”

In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on September 28,  Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez had these words about this and prior U.S. actions inhibiting or preventing such oil shipments.  Only “a few months ago the US government has started to implement, criminal, non-conventional measures to prevent fuel shipments from arriving to our country from different markets, by resorting to threats and persecution against the companies that transport fuel, flag States, States of registration as well as shipping and insurance companies. As a result of that, we have been facing severe difficulties to ensure the supply of the fuel that the everyday-life of the country demands; and we’ve been forced to adopt temporary emergency measures that could only be applied in a well-organized country, with a united and fraternal people that is ready to defend itself from foreign aggressions and preserve the social justice that has been achieved.” [2]

Travel Restrictions on Raúl Castro [3]

On September 26, the U.S. State Department announced that it “is publicly designating Raul Modesto Castro Ruz, the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party and General of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, under Section 7031(c) of the FY 2019 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, due to his involvement in gross violations of human rights.  Section 7031(c) provides that, in cases where the Secretary of State has credible information that foreign government officials have been involved in significant corruption or a gross violation of human rights, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.”

“As First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, Raul Castro oversees a system that arbitrarily detains thousands of Cubans and currently holds more than 100 political prisoners.  As General of Cuba’s Armed Forces, Castro is responsible for Cuba’s actions to prop up the former Maduro regime in Venezuela through violence, intimidation, and repression.  In concert with Maduro’s military and intelligence officers, members of the Cuban security forces have been involved in gross human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela, including torture.  Castro is complicit in undermining Venezuela’s democracy and triggering the hemisphere’s largest humanitarian crisis, forcing 15 percent of the Venezuelan population to flee the country and precipitating a food shortage and health crisis of unprecedented scale in this region.”

“In addition to the public designation of Raul Castro, the Department is also publicly designating his children, Alejandro Castro Espin, Deborah Castro Espin, Mariela Castro Espin, and Nilsa Castro Espin.”

Cuba immediately responded to this action in remarks by Foreign Minister Rodriguez in his previously mentioned address to the U.N. General Assembly. He said this action was based on “gross slanders” and “is void of any practical effect, aimed at offending Cuba’s dignity and the feelings of our people. This is nothing but vote-catching leftovers that are being tossed away to the Cuban-American extreme right. . . . the open and offensive falsehoods that are being used in an attempt to justify them, which we strongly reject, are a reflection of the baseness and rottenness resorted to by this administration, which is drowning in a sea of corruption, lies and immorality.”

More generally the Foreign Minister said that the tightening of US sanctions against Havana reflects the “rot” that Washington goes to asphyxiate the Island and that the “criminal and unconventional measures” of the Trump administration against Cuba are “electoral crumbs” intended for “the Cuban-American extreme right” before the 2020 elections.

U.S. Call for Reports of Alleged Abuses of Cuban Medical Missionaries [4]

Also on September 26, this at the U.N.’s New York Foreign Press Center, the U.S. hosted a briefing on alleged abuses in Cuba’s foreign medical mission program that was moderated by Morgan Ortagus, State Department Spokesperson. In the Department’s background for this event, it alleged, “These programs employ up to 50,000 healthcare professionals in more than 60 countries, and are a major source of income for the Cuban regime. However, some former participants describe coercion, non-payment of wages, withholding of their passports, and restrictions on their movement. The U.S. State Department has documented indicators of human trafficking in Cuba’s overseas medical missions each year since the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report), including in the 2019 TIP Report and we remain deeply concerned about these abuses.”

Carrie Filipetti, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs,  said that two Cuban doctors, Dr. Tatiana Carballo, and Dr. Ramona Matos, would discuss their experience in this Cuban program, which allegedly “is not intended to provide support to countries in need, but rather as a manipulative corruption scheme intended to boost revenue for the Cuban regime, all under the guise of humanitarian assistance.” Filipetti further alleged, “The Cuban Government collected revenue for each professional services and paid the worker a mere fraction of the revenue, almost all of which was deposited in a bank account in Cuba, to which they only had access upon completion of their mission and return to Cuba; . . . [The Cuban government] “collected $7.2 billion in a single year from the export of professional services through [this program] and, while those services were ongoing, refused to provide even a living wage to those who were participating in it; that doctors are coerced into the labor program and deprived of their rights and pay while separated from their families in Cuba; [that] they are given no rights to travel; they are forced under Cuban surveillance; and they see retaliatory measures taken against their families should they choose to speak out.”

The Deputy Assistant Secretary then contended that these alleged practices constituted illegal “labor trafficking.” She hoped that this presentation will “inspire countries who have participated in the Cuban doctors program to condition any future participation on direct payments to the doctors and other fair labor practices.  It is clear that anyone who hears these stories and continues to engage with the Cuban doctors program without insisting on fair labor practices is complicit in these crimes.”

Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, John Barsa, urged “independent journalists, social media, bloggers, inside Cuba and outside Cuba, to try to bring light to this” Cuban program and “civil society groups to support and advocate for” the Cuban professionals.

The U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), Carlos Trujillo, asked for other countries in Latin America to stop participating in the Cuban medical mission program.

John C. Richard, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, argued that the Cuban medical mission program was engaging in illegal forced labor as asserted in the U.S. annual reports on that general topic. He also pleaded for host country governments and civil society to examine the practices in Cuba’s medical missions in their countries and ensure the healthcare professionals’ rights are protected.

Dr. Tatianna Carballo, who had worked in Cuba’s medical missions program in Venezuela for seven years and in Brazil when she left the program. She graduated from free Cuban medical education in 1994. In Venezuela, she and other Cuban doctors were under  “military supervision” while being paid only 10 to 15% of the monies paid by Venezuela with the balance sent to accounts in Cuba when and if they returned. But if they did not return, as Dr. Carbello did not, the money in the Cuban account was seized by the government.

In Brazil, she was paid only 20% of the fees paid by Brazil, only some of which was paid directly.

Dr. Ramona Matos was in the program in Bolivia for one month in 2008, where her Cuban passport was seized by a Cuban agent upon arrival in that country. . . where she was assigned to a community at high altitude with attendant medical complications and where she was forced  to prepare false patient records. In 2013 she was in the mission in Brazil, which she later left and forfeited monies in an account in Cuba. Now she is in the U.S. under a U.S. visa under its Cuban medical professional parole system, which no longer is in effect.

Dr. Rusela Sarabia, another Cuban doctor who was in the Venezuela mission, 2011-2014, but did not make a presentation, said in the Q&A session, that she was forced by Cuban agents to tell every patient to support Maduro in the elections and to submit false reports about the number of patients who had voted for Maduro.

Yet another Cuban doctor who did not make a presentation, Dr. Fidel Cruz, but in the Q&A session added that after he left the program, one of his sons, who is a doctor in Cuba could not get a job as a doctor and has to work as an exterminator while his other son, also a doctor, was assigned to work as a doctor in a Cuban small town far from his parents’ home. The father sees his sons’ predicaments as ways to try to silence the father.

Cuba also immediately responded to this U.S. action. Foreign Minister Rodriguez in his previously mentioned address to the U.N. General Assembly said that the “international medical cooperation programs that Cuba shares with tens of developing countries, which are designed the assist  the neediest communities, based on a feeling of solidarity and the free and voluntary will of hundreds of thousands of Cuban professionals, which are being implemented according to the  cooperative agreements that have been signed with the governments of those countries.  They have enjoyed, for many years now, the recognition of the international community, the UN and the World Health Organization for being the best example of   South-South Cooperation.”

Reactions

Sanctions Against Certain Venezuelan Entities and Vessels. According to Reuters, Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA stated on September 25 (the day before the previously mentioned  U.S. announcement) that it intends to increase crude oil shipments to Cuba to help mitigate Cuba’s current fuel shortage. This will involve nine vessels, two of which scheduled to depart from Venezuela this week.[5]

Although this blogger is unable to confirm or deny this purported Venezuelan announcement, this U.S. effort to hamper, if not eliminate, such shipments is clearly designed to harm the Cuban people and economy and is a major factor in Cuba’s current energy and economic difficulties. Therefore, this U.S. sanction is exceedingly unfortunate and should be terminated ASAP.

Castro Travel Ban. When Castro was Cuba’s President, he came to the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, the last time in 2015. Presumably he could still do so under the U.S.-UN Headquarters Agreement unless it does not cover former officials of another country. But to this blogger, it appears very unlikely that Castro has any intent or desire to come to the U.S.

Thus, this ban against him is just a U.S. propaganda ploy. However, this blogger has no knowledge if this U.S. action would adversely affect his four children.

U.S. Campaign Against Cuba’s Foreign Medical Mission Program. As argued in a previous post, the U.S. strenuous and repeated arguments against the Cuban program are based upon the faulty legal premise that the program is engaged in illegal forced labor. The U.S. also ignores the obvious financial incentive for Cuban doctors to leave Cuba and come to the U.S. where they potentially could earn significantly more money.

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[1] State Dep’t, United States Takes Actions Against Entities and Vessels Operating in Venezuela’s Oil Sector (Sept. 24, 2019);Treasury Dep’t, Treasury Further Targets Entities and Vessels Moving Venezuelan Oil to Cuba (Sept. 24, 2019).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Statement by H.E. Mr. Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba, at the General Assembly Debate of the Seventy fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 28, 2019. New York.

[3] State Dep’t, Public Designation of Raul Castro, Due to Involvement in Gross Violations of Human Rights (Sept. 26, 2019); Reuters, U.S. issues travel ban for Cuba’s Castro over human rights accusations, support for Venezuela’s Maduro (Sept.26, 2019); Assoc. Press, US Hits Cuba’s Raul Castro, Family with Travel Ban, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2019); The US veto on Raúl Castro seeks to ‘outrage the dignity of Cuba,’ says Bruno Rodriguez, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 28, 2019).

[4] State Dept, A Call to Action: First-Hand Accounts of Abuses in Cuba’s Overseas  Medical Missions (Sept. 26, 2019); Reuters, U.S. says Cuban medical missions are trafficking doctors (Sept. 26, 2019),.

[5] Reuters, Venezuela doubles down on oil exports to Cuba despite U.S. sanctions—sources (Sept. 25, 2019).

 

U.S. Opposition to “Abortion” and “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights” at U.N. High-Level Meeting  

On September 23, 2019, the U.N. General Assembly held a High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage that aimed to accelerate progress toward universal health coverage for everyone around the world, which would include access to health care services, medicines and vaccines in accordance with the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, under which all countries have committed to try to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.[1]

At this High-Level Meeting, Alex Azar, the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, read a joint statement on behalf of the following 19 countries representing more than 1.3 billion people: the United States of America plus Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan), Eastern Europe/North Asia (Belarus, Russia), Europe (Hungary, Poland), Latin America (Brazil, Guatemala, Haiti) and  Middle East (Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen).

The U.S. Joint Statement[2]

“We believe that health of women, men, children and adolescents supports and improves the overall health of our families and communities, and that the family is the foundational institution of society and thus should be supported and strengthened.”

“We commend the United Nations and the Member States on the significant work done on the Universal Health Coverage Political Declaration,[3] and for the high priority placed on expanding access to health care.”

“We therefore urge Member States to join us in focusing on the important work of expanding health and opportunities for all people, and especially those in situations of risk and/or vulnerability.”

“To make the most meaningful progress without delay or dissension, we respectfully call upon Member States to join us in concentrating on topics that unite rather than divide on the critical issues surrounding access to health care.”

We do not support references to ambiguous terms and expressions, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights in U.N. documents, because they can undermine the critical role of the family and promote practices, like abortion, in circumstances that do not enjoy international consensus and which can be misinterpreted by U.N. agencies.” (Emphasis added.)

Such terms do not adequately take into account the key role of the family in health and education, nor the sovereign right of nations to implement health policies according to their national context. There is no international right to an abortion and these terms should not be used to promote pro-abortion policies and measures.” (Emphasis added.)

Further, we only support sex education that appreciates the protective role of the family in this education and does not condone harmful sexual risks for young people.”  (Emphasis added.)

“We therefore request that the U.N., including U.N. agencies, focus on concrete efforts that enjoy broad consensus among member states. To that end, only documents that have been adopted by all Member States should be cited in U.N. resolutions.” (Emphasis added.)

“To this end, we also understand the important role the Sustainable Development Goals play in assisting countries realize their own path to universal health coverage, in accordance with national policies and legislation.”

“We strongly support the highest attainable health outcomes for women, men, children, and adolescents holistically and throughout their lives.”

We support equal access to health care, which includes, but is not limited to reproductive concerns, maternal health, voluntary and informed family planning, HIV, elimination of violence against women and girls, and empowerment to reach the highest standard of health.” (Emphasis added.)

“We support programs to improve the health, life, dignity, and well-being of women, men, children, and families, and we will continue to be their stalwart defender.”

“Let us focus on concrete issues and challenges to accelerate access to health for all.”

“To this end, international solidarity has a key role to play, in order to the build broad consensus by member states.”

Preceding U.S. Letter Urging Support of the Joint Statement[4]

Prior to this High-Level Meeting, Secretary Azar and U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo reportedly sent a letter to at least some of the other U.N. members that were to attend this High-Level Meeting encouraging them to sign this joint statement opposing “harmful UN policies, especially at the World Health Organization, that promote sexual and reproductive health and rights” and “ensuring that every sovereign state has the ability to determine the best way to protect the unborn and defend the family as the foundational unity of society vital to children thriving and leading healthy lives.”

This letter reportedly also said, “We remain gravely concerned that aggressive efforts to reinterpret international instruments to create a new international right to abortion and to promote international policies that weaken the family have advanced through some United Nations forums.” Evidence of this [effort] is found in references throughout many multilateral global health policy documents to interpret ‘comprehensive sexuality education’ and ‘sexual and reproductive health’ and ‘sexual and reproductive health and rights’ to diminish the role of parents in the most sensitive and personal family-oriented issues. The latter has been asserted to mean promotion of abortion, including pressuring countries to abandon religious principles and cultural norms enshrined in law that protect unborn life.”

Other U.S. Challenges to U.N. Documents

This U.S. letter and the Joint Statement are consistent with prior efforts by the Trump Administration to delete and remove language from various U.N. agreements. Here are examples of this effort: (a) this April intense lobbying by U.S. officials resulted in the removal of references to sexual and reproductive health from a UN security council resolution on combatting rape in conflict; and (b) the U.S.previously attempted to water down language and remove the word “gender” from UN documents.

On September 24 Secretary Azar remained at the U.N. to attend President Trump’s address to the General Assembly and to meet with other governments representatives. He also was interviewed on Tony Perkins’ “Washington Watch” radio program  [5]

Opposition to U.S. Joint Statement[6]

The Netherlands’ Minister of Foreign Trade, Sigrid Kaag, spoke out in a competing joint statement issued on behalf of 58 countries. Although it did not mention the U.S. Joint Statement or use the word “abortion,” her joint statement clearly opposed the U.S. position. Her main points were the following: (1) “We strongly believe that SRHR [Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights] is an integral part of Universal Health Coverage and the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]. (2) “Investing in SRHR has proven to be affordable, cost-effective, and cost saving.” (3) “Gender-related barriers to accessing UHC [Universal Health Care] must be addressed, including by direct involvement of women, adolescents and marginalized groups in policy and program design.” (4) “Investing in comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in UHC is necessary to address the needs of women, girls, adolescents and people in the most marginalized situations who need these the most.”

Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation tweeted that the action was “unbelievable news” and that “women’s rights must be protected at all times.” Another objector was Françoise Girard, president of the International Women’s Health Coalition, who said that “sexual and reproductive rights are human rights, and are enshrined in UN agreements for almost 25 years now” and that “the Trump administration’s position is extreme and its repeated attempts to strip women, girls, and gender- diverse people of their rights at the United Nations have failed.”

Shannon Kowalski, director of advocacy and policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, said the Pompeo-Azar letter “shows how they are trying to erode international consensus and roll back the clock for women and girls. It’s not just abortion that they care about, they care about women’s ability to exercise autonomy over their bodies and about denying them critical access to the services they need.” That Pompeo and Azur both signed the letter suggests an escalation of the US strategy to undermine policy statements, she added.

Keifer Buckingham, senior policy adviser for international public health at the Open Society Foundations, said that rather than an escalation, “it could be them just putting out in public what they have been doing in private.” She said the US was effectively sending a message of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”, which could have funding implications.

Other civil society and women’s rights groups expressed alarm at the efforts and accused the U.S. of aligning with countries like Saudi Arabia and Sudan with poor human rights records and, also, of putting unfair pressure on poor countries that depend on U.S. aid.

Support for U.S. Joint Statement[7]

On the other side of this controversy were anti-abortion groups that praised the statement as a sign of the administration’s “strong pro-life leadership on the world stage.” For example, the group Susan B. Anthony (SBA ) List issued a statement, saying, “From day one, President Trump has worked to restore respect for life as a foundational American value, not only in our domestic policies, but in our international relations as well.”

Conclusion

This speech by Secretary Azar, the preceding letter and the U.S. lobbying for other nations’ support against abortion and reproductive health can be seen as confirmation of fears that the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights that was announced this June was designed to put a gloss of respectability on efforts to attack women’s rights and to appeal to the Administration’s base of very conservative religious supporters.[8]

As noted in other posts, this U.S. Commission emphasizes the July 4, 1776, U.S. Declaration of Independence’s statement “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But the Commission ignores that phrase’s indications that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are “among” certain unalienable rights; i.e., there are other such rights. Moreover, the Commission ignores the very next sentence of that Declaration: “That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In other words, this Declaration recognizes that these recited rights need to be “secured” by subsequent legislation that will have details not specified in this Declaration. (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, the U.S.-promoted Joint Statement’s requiring all 193 U.N. members to adopt a U.N. document or treaty as a precondition for them to be used in other U.N. documents would give every one of those members a veto right on the subsequent use of those documents or treaties. Is there any such document or treaty that has such unanimous approval? (That is exceedingly unlikely.) It also is  antithetical to the provisions of such treaties requiring a certain number of ratifications in order for the treaties to go into effect for the parties to the treaties. In short, this provision of the Joint Statement would totally prevent progress on these and many other issues.[9]

In short, the U.S. positions expressed in the U.N. speech by Secretary Azar were most unfortunate.

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[1] HHS Dep’t, Secretary Azar Represents the United States During UNGA High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Care Coverage (Sept. 23, 2019); U.N. Gen. Ass’bly, uhc 2030.

[2] U.S. HHS Dep’t, [Secretary Azar], Remarks on Universal Health Coverage (Sept. 23, 2019); Howard, U.S. wants the U.N. to oppose terms such as “reproductive health and rights” in policies, CNN (Sept. 23, 2019).

[3] The Political Declaration stated that the High-Level Meeting will have “a dedicated focus for the first time on universal health coverage . . . and [a strong recommitment] to achieve universal health coverage by 2030” with 83 numbered paragraphs of specific actions towards that goal. (U.N. Gen. Ass’bly, Political Declaration on the High-level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (Sept. 10, 2019).)

[4] Cha, U.S. joins 19 nations, including Saudi Arabia and Russia: ‘There is no international right to an abortion, Wash. Post (Sept. 24, 2019); Ford, Leaked letter suggests US is rallying UN members to oppose abortion, Guardian (Sept. 23, 2019).

[5] HHS Dep’t, Secretary Azar Attends Presidential Address at UNGA, Furthers U.S. Partnerships on Health through Bilateral Meetings (Sept. 24, 2019).

[6] Netherlands Ministry Foreign Affairs, Joint Statement on SRHR in UHC (Sept. 23, 2019).

[7] SBA List, Pro-Life Groups Praise Trump Admin’s Defense of Life at the UN (Sept. 24, 2019).

[8] See posts to dwkcommentaries about the Commission on Unalienable Rights.

[9]  See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Law (TREATIES).

 

 

 

 

U.S. at U.N. Global Call To Protect Religious Freedom

On September 23, 2019, President Donald Trump did not speak at the U.N. Summit on Climate Change. Instead, after briefly attending that session, he chaired the U.N.’s Global Call To Protect Religious Freedom meeting that was organized by the U.S.[1] After Vice President Mike Pence’s introduction, the President delivered his remarks followed by comments from Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

 Vice President Pence’s Remarks[2]

“it is my great honor to be here today with the President of the United States to reaffirm America’s commitment to what the people of our nation have always believed: that every person is endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.  And Americans have always believed our first freedom is the freedom of religion.”

“And there’s no better time for a meeting like this on the world stage.  As we gather here at the United Nations, more than 80 percent of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is threatened or banned.”

“The regime in Iran brutally persecutes Christians, Sunnis, Bahai’i, and Jews. In Iraq, Iran-backed militias terrorize Christians and Yazidis who were nearly wiped out by ISIS’s recent campaign of genocide. The Communist Party in China has arrested Christian pastors, banned the sale of Bibles, demolished churches, and imprisoned more than a million Uighurs in the Muslim population.”

“In our hemisphere, the regime of Daniel Ortega is virtually waging war on the Catholic Church in Nicaragua.  And in Venezuela, the dictator Nicolás Maduro uses anti-hate laws to prosecute clergy, even as his media cronies spread anti-Semitism by trivializing the Holocaust.”

“Communities of faith across the wider world have also faced unspeakable acts of violence in places of worship, shocking the conscience of the world.”

“In October, 11 Jews were murdered in the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  In March, a gunman killed 51 Muslims at prayer in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.  And just a month later, suicide bombers murdered more than 300 Christians during Easter services at three Christian churches in Sri Lanka.”

“These attacks strike at the heart of everything free peoples hold sacred.  And the threats of religious freedom and the attacks on people of faith underscore why President Trump has taken such decisive action, since the very first days of our administration, to build and promote our nation’s proud tradition of advancing religious freedom.  And that continues today.”

“At the President’s direction, the United States created the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program, and we’ve provided more than $370 million to aid ethnic minorities in faith communities persecuted by ISIS in Iraq and throughout the region.”[3]

“Earlier this year, at the President’s direction, the Secretary of State held the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, inviting more than a thousand civil society and religious leaders, in 100 different nations, to the largest event of its kind in the world.”[4]

“And last year, at the inaugural ministerial, at the President’s direction, we established the International Religious Freedom Fund, which already has received nearly $5 million in pledges and given over 435 Rapid Response Grants to those persecuted for their deeply held beliefs.  And to date, this effort has helped some 2,000 victims of religious persecution around the world.”[5]

“As the President often says, America is a nation of faith, and we will always stand for the freedom of religion of every person, of every race and every creed, to live, to work, to worship according to the dictates of their conscience.

“And today, giving evidence of his passion for religious liberty, the President will announce additional steps that the United States will take to protect religious liberty and defend people of faith around the world.”

“Today, I ask all nations to join us in this urgent moral duty.  We ask the governments of the world to honor the eternal right of every person to follow their conscience, live by their faith, and give glory to God.  The United States has a vital role in this critical mission.”

“It is my high honor and distinct privilege to introduce to you a tireless champion of the freedom of religion and people of every faith in America and around the world, the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.”

President Trump’s Message[6]

“The United States is founded on the principle that our rights do not come from government; they come from God.  This immortal truth is proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.  Our Founders understood that no right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one’s religious convictions.”

“Regrettably, the religious freedom enjoyed by American citizens is rare in the world.  Approximately 80 percent of the world’s population live in countries where religious liberty is threatened, restricted, or even banned.”

“As we speak, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Yazidis, and many other people of faith are being jailed, sanctioned, tortured, and even murdered, often at the hands of their own government, simply for expressing their deeply held religious beliefs.”

“Today, with one clear voice, the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution.”

“To stop the crimes against people of faith, release prisoners of conscience, repeal laws restricting freedom of religion and belief, protect the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the oppressed, America stands with believers in every country who ask only for the freedom to live according to the faith that is within their own hearts.”

“As President, protecting religious freedom is one of my highest priorities and always has been.  Last year, our Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, hosted the first-ever Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom. In this year’s ministerial, Secretary Pompeo announced plans to create the International Religious Freedom Alliance — an alliance of like-minded nations devoted to confronting religious persecution all around the world.[7]

“I’ve appointed a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.  We’re standing up for almost 250 million Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith.  It is estimated that 11 Christians are killed every day for . . . following the teachings of Christ.”[8]

After reviewing some of the recent violence against religious people and buildings, the President said, “These evil attacks are a wound on all humanity.  We must all work together to protect communities of every faith.  We’re also urging every nation to increase the prosecution and punishment of crimes against religious communities.  There can be no greater crime than that.  This includes measures to prevent the intentional destruction of religious sites and relics.  Today, the Trump administration will dedicate an additional $25 million to protect religious freedom and religious sites and relics.”

“The United States is forming a coalition of U.S. businesses for the protection of religious freedom.  This is the first time this has been done.  This initiative will encourage the private sector to protect people of all faiths in the workplace.  And the private sector has brilliant leadership.  And that’s why some of the people in this room are among the most successful men and women on Earth.  They know how things get done and they know how to take care of things.”

“ I want to once again thank all of the survivors in the room for their courage and resilience.  You’re an inspiration to the world.  You remind us that no force on Earth is stronger than the faith of religious believers.  The United States of America will forever remain at your side and the side of all who seek religious freedom.”

“Today, I ask all nations to join us in this urgent moral duty.  We ask the governments of the world to honor the eternal right of every person to follow their conscience, live by their faith, and give glory to God.  The United States has a vital role in this critical mission.”

“It is my high honor and distinct privilege to introduce to you a tireless champion of the freedom of religion and people of every faith in America and around the world, the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Remarks[9]

After thanking the many world leaders at the meeting, Vice President Pence and President Trump, Pompeo said, “The Bible says that ‘Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,  think about these things.’ [Bible, Philippians 4:8 (NRSV)]] And that’s what we are all doing here today.

“As you heard, religious freedom is under threat all around the world.” He then introduced  three individuals who talked about “their struggles on behalf of this first freedom, this important and unalienable right:” Dabrina Bet-Tamraz (Iran), rabbi Faiz Algaradi (Yemen) and Jewher Ilham (China).

Pompeo closed by mentioning “the International Religious Freedom Alliance the State Department announced in July. It is the most ambitious human rights project launched in a generation. We aim to bring together like-minded countries, faith leaders, civil society groups, and international organizations around the world to promote religious freedom in a more consistent, organized, and powerful way. The foundation of the alliance is Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which begins, ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.’”

“So if you’re a country that takes human rights seriously, understanding its many benefits for peace, security, and prosperity, please come join us. If you’re a country that stands for human dignity and for freedom of conscience, please come join us. And if you’re a leader simply moved by the stories you’ve heard from these brave survivors today, come join us. Turn your sympathy for them into freedom for others. Please reach out to our Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.”

“The United Nations is only as strong as its sovereign members determine it will be. Our belief in our principles is only as strong as our confidence to express them. I ask – indeed, I pray – that you will help be a voice for the voiceless by joining the International Religious Freedom Alliance. May God bless the survivors who are here with us today, may God bless the United States of America, and may God bless the nations who have gathered with us here this morning.”

Conclusion

Since the U.S. chose not to attend the U.N. Climate Change Summit, the U.S. possibly believed that it needed to organize another event at the U.N. that day so that it did not appear that the U.S. was avoiding the U.N. and instead that the U.S. had some positive news coverage. It also is another event consistent with the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights.

The basics of the Global Call To Protect Religious Freedom are laudable, and it also is true that there is religious persecution in the world today. However, the unspoken political motivation of this presidential administration—appealing to its evangelical Christian supporters—also is apparent, and Democrats need to be cautious in criticizing this event.

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[1] Liptak, Trump will hold session on religious persecution instead of attending UN climate summit, CNN (Sept. 21, 2019).

[2] White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at the United Nations Event on Religious Freedom/New York, NY (Sept. 23, 2019).

[3] White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 26, 2018).

[4] U.S. State Department’s Second Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (July 21, 2019).

[5]  State Department’s First Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (July 7, 2019).

[6] White House, Remarks by President Trump at the United Nations Event on Religious Freedom/New York, NY (Sept. 23, 2019).

[7] E.g., Banks, As religious freedom summit ends, State Department announces new alliance, sanctions, Nat’l Cath. Reporter (July 19, 2019)

[8]  State Dep’t, About Us—Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

[9] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo at the United Nations Event on Religious Freedom (Sept. 23, 2019). h

Busy Week for U.S. at U.N. 

The week of September 23 is a busy one for the U.S. at the U.N. in New York City.

On Monday (September 23), the U.N. held a Climate Change Summit that the U.S. chose not to attend (except for a few minutes non-speaking attendance by President Trump). Instead, the U.S. hosted the Global Call To Protect Religious Freedom at the U.N. with appearances by President Trump, Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo.

Also on September 23 the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, addressed another U.N. meeting on universal health care with perhaps the most signficant comments of the day.

On Tuesday (September 24) President Trump made a major speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

Subsequent posts will examine each of these events. (If anyone knows of other major U.S.-U.N. events this week, please identify them in a comment to this post.)

Cuba’s Increasing Cooperation with Russia   

A recent blog post commented on the increasing connections between Cuba and the European Union, one of the consequences of the Trump Administration’s hostile rhetoric and policies about the island nation. Another unfortunate consequence of this U.S. hostility is the increasing cooperation between Cuba and Russia.[1]

Last week, for example, Vice President of the Cuban Council of Ministers Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, led a Cuban delegation for meetings in Moscow. This included the X Meeting of the Russia-Cuba Business Committee, the first National Exhibition of Cuba in Russia and the XVII meeting of the Russian-Cuban Intergovernmental Commission.

At the Commission meeting Cabrisas said, “I call on continuing to work to strengthen the bonds of friendship and solidarity between the two peoples and governments, to make our economic, commercial and financial relations of cooperation more efficient.” He also complained that U.S. sanctions, together with the effects of climate change, have caused losses to the Cuban economy in the last decade “for almost 22 billion U.S. dollars” and that this damage “has affected [Cuba’s] financial situation and caused some delays in our payments. ” However, he stressed that Cuba is resolving this situation “gradually” and that it has “the will and the decision to fulfill each of our obligations to the Russian Federation.” Moreover, Cuba is satisfied “with the effective participation of the Russian Federation in Cuba’s economic-social development plan until 2030.”

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, meanwhile, presented as “good news that the volume of trade between Russia and Cuba could reach 500 million dollars by the end of this year.” Last year, he added, “the volume of Russian-Cuban trade grew by 34%.” With respect to Cuba’s current fuel crisis, Borisov said that the two countries had just signed a plan to modernize the Cuban energy system, which will allow Cuba to reduce oil supplies from abroad by a third and save 1.8 billion dollars. This was the result of the efforts of last January’s creation of a working group to implement projects aimed at modernizing Cuba’s energy sector with the help of Russian companies.

Russia also is interested in resuming agricultural cooperation with Cuba and raising it to the levels achieved during the Soviet era, according to the director general of the Russian National Committee for Economic Cooperation with Latin American Countries (CN CEPLA), Tatiana Mashkova. She also referred to possible bartering and the use of the ruble in commercial transactions. The vice president for the Russian side of the Cuba-Russia business committee also recalled that in those years the Soviets supplied irrigation machinery and all kinds of harvesters to Cuba.

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[1] Havana clings to Moscow as a ‘piece fundamental to solve the current crisis,’ Diario de Cuba (Sept. 21, 2019)    See also these posts to dwkcommentaries: Professor LeoGrande’s Comments on the Strengthening Cuba-Russian Relationship (Jan. 3, 2018); Trump’s Hostility Towards Cuba Provides Opportunities for Russia (Dec. 19, 2017).

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U.S. Expels Two Cuban Diplomats at U.N. 

On September 19, the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. had expelled two unnamed Cuban diplomats at the U.N. in New York City “for abusing their privileges of residence. This is due to their attempts to conduct influence operations against the United States.”[1]

In addition, the Department stated, “travel within the United States by all members of Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations will now essentially be restricted to the island of Manhattan.”

The U.S. takes “any and all attempts against the National Security of the United States seriously, and will continue to investigate any additional personnel who may be manipulating their privileges of residence.”

Cuban Reaction[2]

Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez responded on Twitter. He said, “The expulsion of two diplomats from the #Cuba Mission in the [U.N.] and the greater restriction of movement to the rest are aimed at provoking a diplomatic escalation leading to the closure of bilateral embassies, further tightening the blockade and creating tensions between both countries.”

In addition, Rodriguez said,”I categorically reject the unjustified expulsion of the two officials of the Permanent Mission of #Cuba at the UN and the tightening of movement restriction to diplomats and families. It is vulgar slander to accuse that they performed acts incompatible with diplomatic status.”

The deputy director of the MINREX, Johana Tablada de la Torre, also objected. He said the U.S. “did the same in 2003 behind this measure. It is also expected to coincide with the imminent announcement of the new #Cuba report on the #Blocking [U.S. embargo] to the UN Secretary General, a new distraction from the growing international questioning of political cruelty #EstadosUnidos.”

Cuba Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas, tweeted about the expulsion on Thursday. “Timing is everything. This is happening a few hours before the arrival in New York of the #Cuba delegation attending . . . [U.N. General Assembly] and the very same day a new investigation (Canadian) rejects previous theories (American) about ‘attacks’ on foreign diplomats in Havana.”

The Cuba Mission to the U.N. issued a statement that on September 12, the U.S. advised the mission of accusations against the two diplomats and demanded Cuba’s response within 48 hours. Cuba did just that.” However, “the US side, in flagrant violation of basic principles of the diplomatic protocol, decided to respond through a tweet. This, despite the fact that the channel of consultations between the two missions was open from the beginning of the process.”

Upon the two diplomats return to Havana on September 20, Foreign Minister Rodriguez at a press conference did not respond to a journalist’s question of whether Cuba would expel two U.S. diplomats under the principle of reciprocity. Instead Rodriguez said, “Cuba will give appropriate and timely response to these actions of the United States Government and we call on the international community, in particular the diplomatic community accredited to the UN and the people of the United States to repudiate these actions aimed at damaging the relationship with Cuba.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Required Departure of Cuban Diplomats from Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations (Sept. 19, 2019); Assoc. Press, Cuba: Diplomat Expulsions, Gas Crisis Part of US Offensive, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2019).

[2] Gaouette & Hansler, US expels two Cuban diplomats to the UN citing national security, CNN (Sepet. 19, 2019); Officials expelled from UN mission arrive in Cuba, Cubadebate (Sept. 20, 2019); These are the two Cuban diplomats expelled by the US, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 21, 2019); Reactionary anti-Cubans: The regime blames its ‘usual suspects’ after the expulsion of its diplomats in the US, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 21, 2019).

 

 

 

 

Canadian Analysis of Medical Problems of Its Diplomats in Cuba

A new study commissioned by the Canadian government concluded that fumigation against mosquitoes in Cuba and not “sonic attacks” may have caused about 40 U.S. and Canadian diplomats and family members in Havana to fall ill.[1]

The researchers for this study said that they had detected different levels of brain damage in an area responsible for memory, concentration and sleep-and-wake cycle and that “there are very specific types of toxins that affect these kinds of nervous systems … and these are insecticides, pesticides, organophosphates — specific neurotoxins.” They then concluded that cholinesterase, a key enzyme required for the proper functioning of the nervous system, was being blocked there.

Some pesticides work by inhibiting that enzyme, the report said, and during the 2016-2018 period when diplomats became ill, normal fumigation in Cuba was stepped up due to the Zika epidemic in the Caribbean. That increased fumigation in and around residences where they lived in Cuba was conducted by both Cuban and Canadian authorities.

The Canadian (and U.S.?) embassies actively sprayed in offices, as well as inside and outside diplomatic residences — sometimes five times more frequently than usual. Many times, spraying operations were carried out every two weeks, according to [Canadian?] embassy records. Toxicological analysis of the Canadian victims confirmed the presence of pyrethroid and organophosphate — two compounds found in fumigation products. There also was a correlation between the individuals most affected by the symptoms and the number of fumigations that were performed at their residence.

The Canadian researchers will now collaborate with Cuban officials to determine whether any Cubans suffered similar brain injuries.

The Canadian study was conducted by a team of researchers affiliated with the Brain Repair Centre at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Health Authority. In charge was Dr. Alon Friedman, from the Department of Neurosciences and Medical Pediatrics, Dalhousie University, Canada.

Reactions

Cuban experts consider that the hypothesis presented by the Canadian team is a serious attempt to explain the symptoms reported through scientific research, “although it is premature to reach conclusions,” says Doctor of Science Mitchell Joseph Valdés-Sosa, General director of the Neurosciences Center of Cuba.

So far no U.S. reactions to this study have been found.

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[1] Friedman, Calkin & Bowen, Havana Syndrome: Neuroanatomical and Neurofunctional Assessment in Acquired Brain Injury Due to Unknown Etiology (May 24, 2019); Reuters, Exposure to neurotoxin may have caused Canadian, U.S. diplomats’ ailments in Cuba, Globe & Mail (Sept. 19, 2019); Havana syndrome: Exposure to neurotoxin may have been cause, CBS News (Sept. 19, 2019); Confirmed: “There is no Havana syndrome caused by mysterious weapons,” Cubadebate (Sept. 16, 2019); Cuban authorities endorse the new theory on the health conditions of diplomats, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 20, 2019). The medical problems of U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba have been discussed in many posts in this blog. (See “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” and “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2019” sections in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.