Another Perspective on Cuba’s Current Elections 

A friend has provided me with an illuminating article on Cuba’s current round of elections and the upcoming transition from the Castro brothers presumably to Miguel Diaz-Canel, that was written by William LeoGrande, a professor of government in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C. and a noted author and commentator on Cuba.[1]

LeoGrande emphasizes that the elections come “at a delicate political moment. Castro’s ambitious economic reform program, the “updating” of the economy, is still a work in progress and has yet to significantly raise the standard of living of most Cubans. Moreover, it is encountering resistance from state and party bureaucrats who are loath to lose control over the levers of economic power and the perks those provide. The economy has also been struggling because of declining oil shipments from Venezuela, which sells oil to Cuba at subsidized prices, helping to ease Cuba’s chronic shortage of hard currency. . . . The resulting energy shortage has forced Cuba to impose drastic conservation measures and pushed the economy into a mild recession last year.”

Hurricane Irma has been another major problem for Cuba. According to LeoGrande, it inflicted “several billion dollars’ worth of damage as it tracked along the north coast before turning toward the Florida Keys. The storm hit some of Cuba’s most lucrative tourist resorts, cutting into the one sector of the economy that has enjoyed sustained growth in recent years. Most of the major hotels predicted they would reopen for business quickly, but the storm did enormous damage to the power grid, leaving large swaths of central Cuba in darkness.”

All of these problems have fueled “popular discontent over the economy and impatience with the slow pace of improvement . . . . In an independent opinion poll taken in late 2016, 46 percent of Cubans rated the nation’s economic performance as poor or very poor, 35 percent rated it as fair, and only 13 percent rated it as good or excellent. Solid majorities reported not seeing much economic progress in recent years for the country or themselves, and they had low expectations for the future.”

Moreover, Cuban people have “become more vocal in expressing . . . [their] discontent. The expansion of internet access, the ability of Cubans to travel abroad without state permission and Raul Castro’s own calls for more open debate about Cuba’s problems have fueled an increasingly robust public sphere.”

This discontent, however, faces major hurdles in electing candidates with these views. They have “formidable obstacles. First, no overt campaigning is allowed, so it is hard for candidates to run on an alternative policy agenda. In the absence of a formal campaign, people learn about candidates by word of mouth.” And the Communist Party of Cuba has the ability “to influence elections by mobilizing its members against candidates it regards as dissidents.”

Nevertheless, the next president, presumably Diaz-Canel, will face the challenge of balancing “the need for economic reform with the fear of change prevalent within key sectors of the political elite.”

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[1] LeoGrande, Cuba After Castro: The Coming Elections and a Historic Changing of the Guard, World Politics Review (Oct. 17, 2017). A previous post set forth an overview of Cuba’s elections in 2017-2018.

 

 

Analysis Shows Cuban Military Controls Only 4% of Cuba’s Gross Domestic Product

William LeoGrande, Professor of Government at Washington, D.C.’s American University and a noted expert on Cuba, has analyzed the repeated assertion by many, including this blogger, that 60% of the Cuban economy is controlled by the Cuban military’s holding company Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA).[1]

LeoGrande sets forth his analysis and concludes that GAESA’s revenue constitutes 21% of total hard currency income from both state enterprises and the private sector, 8% of total state revenue, and just 4% of GDP (Anuario Estadístico 2015).

This suggests that President Trump’s recent announcement of a future regulation banning U.S. companies from engaging in business with such Cuban entities may not have as a significant adverse effect on the Cuban economy as originally thought.

As always, comments of agreement or disagreement are encouraged.

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[1] LeoGrande, Does the Cuban Military Really Control Sixty Percent of the Economy, HuffPost (June 28, 2017).

President Trump’s New Policy on Cuba Could Substantially Reduce U.S. Remittances to Relatives in Cuba         

President Donald Trump’s June 6 National Security Presidential Memorandum on Cuba, upon implementation, could deprive over a million Cuban families of access to remittances from their relatives abroad. This was the conclusion of William M. LeoGrande, Professor of Government, and Marguerite Rose Jiménez, Adjunct Professorial Lecturer, both at American University, in their article in Huffpost.[1]

This Presidential Memorandum that was referenced in an earlier post “redefines ‘prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba’ expansively, potentially including almost a quarter of Cuba’s entire labor force. Cubans who are ‘prohibited’ are not allowed to receive payments from U.S. persons, and that includes remittances.”

“The [current] regulatory definition of prohibited officials was very narrow, limited to members of the Council of Ministers and flag officers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The new definition proposed [in the Presidential Memorandum] . . . includes hundreds of senior officials in every government agency, thousands of ordinary Cubans who volunteer as leaders of their local Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, and—most importantly― every employee of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR) and Ministry of the Interior (MININT).”

This change is contrary to Trump’s stated policy of empowering the Cuban people by directing U.S. funds to them, rather than to the Cuban government. Remittances are the very best way to do that because the dollars go directly to family on the island, at a rate of about $3 billion annually.

Moreover, those remittances often are used as capital by Cubans to start and augment their private businesses and thereby improve the standard of living of their owners and employees and enhance the emerging private sector as a counterweight to the state-owned businesses. In addition, this proposed change could adversely affect Cuban-Americans if they are providing capital to their Cuban relatives on condition that the latter share profits with those in the U.S.

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[1] LeoGrande & Jiménez, Trump Policy Could Cut Remittances To A Million Cuban Families, HuffPost (June 20, 2017).

 

 

 

Cuba Announces Defensive Military Exercises

On November 9 (the day after Donald Trump’s presidential election) Cuba announced it would conduct defensive military exercise later this month.[1]

The announcement came in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba when the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces said that on November 16-18 it would conduct this exercise as part of its “continuous efforts to maintain the country’s defense preparedness” and as a “a fundamental element of the implementation of the doctrine of War by the Entire People.”

The objectives of this exercise “include the training of leadership bodies and command staff in different entities responsible for the nation’s defense; and the organization of work to keep the population and troops prepared to respond to different enemy actions.” The “maneuvers and tactical exercises will take place with the participation of Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) units, the Ministry of the Interior, and other components of the defense system, including the movement of troops, material, aviation, and explosives in the cases where this may be required.” (Emphasis added.)

Although the official announcement of this exercise did not link it to the election of Donald Trump the previous day, Michael Wasserstein of the Associated Press did so. He pointed out that it is the seventh such exercise, often held in response to points of high tension with the U.S. The first was in 1980 after the election of Ronald Reagan as U.S. president, and during this year’s campaign Trump said he would reverse President Obama’s measures to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba.

William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University and a noted U.S. expert on U.S.-Cuba relations, commented, “With both the White House and Congress in Republican hands, there is nothing to stop Trump from keeping his pledge to resurrect the Cold War-era policy of hostility, despite opinion polls showing broad public support for engagement.”

The Cuban announcement strongly suggests that the Cuban government had contingency plans to do so in case Trump won the election.

The same day (November 9), however, Cuba’s President Raúl Castro sent this brief message to Donald Trump: “On the occasion of your election as President of the United States of America, I send you congratulations.”

The news of this message in Granma emphasized these Trump comments in his victory speech: “Let’s get along with all other nations who are willing to get along with us. We’ll have a fabulous relationship. . . . I want to tell the international community that while the interests of America will always be a priority, we will deal fairly with everyone. To all people and all nations. Let’s find common ground, no hostilities. Associations, not conflict.”[2]

Conclusion

As a strong advocate for U.S.-Cuba normalization and the ending of many U.S. policies that contradict such efforts, I have been troubled by Donald Trump’s statements about Cuba during the campaign and now worry about what as president he will do about Cuba. I now hope that the previously quoted comments from his victory statement on the morning of November 9 will be the guiding light with respect to Cuba.

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[1] Strategic Exercise “Bastión 2016” Scheduled November 16-18, Granma (Nov. 9, 2016); Weissenstein, Cuba announces nationwide military exercises to confront ‘enemy actions,’ Wash. Post (Nov. 9, 2016); Reuters, Cuba Announces Military Exercises After Trump Elected U.S. President, N.Y. Times (Nov. 9, 2016).

[2] Raúl sends message of congratulations to President-elect Trump, Granma (Nov. 10, 2016); Cuban Leader Castro Congratulates Trump on Victory in US Presidential Election, Sputnik News (Nov. 10, 2016). The original English version of Trump’s comments said this: “[W]e will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us. . . . We will have great relationships. We expect to have great, great relationships. . . . I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone, with everyone. All people and all other nations. We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.” Full text of Trump’s victory speech, StarTribune (Nov. 9, 2016).

Recommended Obama Administrative Actions To Promote U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation         

On August 29, a U.S. coalition made important recommendations for the Obama Administration to promote further U.S.-Cuba reconciliation by taking administrative actions that did not need congressional authorization.[1] Here is a summary of these recommendations:

  1. Facilitate Greater Financial Engagement and Expand Commercial Transactions.”

These recommendations included (a) authorizing, “by general license, or a general policy of approval, participation by U.S. investors in business arrangements in Cuba, including with state-owned firms, cooperatives, or private sector firms, when the goods or services produced benefit the Cuban people;” and (b) authorizing “by a general policy of approval, the import and sale in the United States of Cuban agricultural products made by the private and cooperative sectors, including transactions that pass through Cuban state export agencies.”

  1. Expand Health-Related Engagement.”

These recommendations included (a) eliminating “barriers which deny U.S. citizens access to clinically proven Cuban-developed drugs; (b) authorizing “U.S. pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies to include Cuban hospitals and health centers in their clinical trials;” and (c) authorizing “U.S. entities (universities, research centers, and private firms) by general license to collaborate in medical and health-related research and development projects in Cuba, including commercial projects.”

  1. Strengthen Security Cooperation where there are U.S. Interests at Stake.”

These recommendations included (a) deepening and extending “counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics cooperation;” and (b) building “gradually on military–to-military contacts.”

  1. Eliminate or Suspend Programs that Fail to . . . Promote Democratic Opening.”

These recommendations were (a) suspending or redirecting “the ‘democracy promotion’ programs now funded through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), and USAID, while conducting a review of existing programs to ensure they are consistent with the President’s policies of normalization of relations with Cuba;” and (b) ensuring that “any program or policy that is carried out under this rubric should be conducted openly, transparently, and with the goal of expanding contacts between the people of the US and Cuba without interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs.”

Amen! This blog repeatedly has called for just such action. (See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.)

  1. Normalize Migration.”

These recommendations were (a) increasing “the number of visas [the U.S.] issues for Cubans to obtain legal residence;” (b) ending “preferential treatment for Cuban migrants arriving at U.S. borders;” and (c) ending “the Cuban Medical Professionals Parole Program, which offers incentives to Cuban doctors working abroad to leave their country and immigrate to the [U.S.].”

Amen again! This blog repeatedly has called for just such action. (See posts listed in “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” and “Cuban Migration to U.S., 2015-2016” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.)

Conclusion

The coalition’s letter also supported Congress’ enacting measures to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba; to give U.S. farmers better access to the Cuban market, by permitting private financing for U.S. agricultural sales; to provide full staffing for the U.S. Embassy in Havana to protect American citizens and provide visas to qualified Cuban applicants; to better manage irregular migration from Cuba; and to take steps to level the playing field for U.S. businesses interested in the Cuban market, relative to foreign competitors.

The coalition consisted of Geoff Thale (Program Director, Washington Office on Latin America); Ted Piccone (Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution); William LeoGrande (Professor, American University); Fulton Armstrong (Senior Faculty Fellow, American University); Alana Tummino (Senior Director of Policy, Americas Society/Council of the Americas); Sarah Stephens (Executive Director, Center for Democracy in the Americas); Mavis Anderson (Senior Associate, Latin America Working Group); Tomas Bilbao (Managing Director, Avila Strategies); Mario Bronfman (Private consultant); and James Williams (President, Engage Cuba).

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[1] Letter, Coalition to President Obama (Aug. 29, 2016). This blogger assumes that the coalition independently researched and concluded that the Obama Administration has the legal authority to take such administrative actions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reforming U.S. “Democracy Promotion” Programs in Cuba

One of the major irritants to normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations has been the U.S. conducting so-called “democracy promotion” programs on the island. In reality they have been misguided programs aimed at regime change in Cuba. Prominent examples have been the “discreet” or “covert” programs sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide communications equipment to Jewish congregations and to promote social media systems in Cuba.[1]

Reforms of such programs have been proposed by Fulton Armstrong, a Research Fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies.[2] Here are his suggestions:

  1. Collaborate with Cuba on the programs. ”U.S. runs programs to support democracy and good governance in many countries, [including] allies like Mexico and Colombia, under the authority of other laws and with a more collegial tone. “
  2. “Restore and expand what worked in the past. The distribution of books and clippings; support for exchange visits; promotion of academic and cultural events; and other nonpolitical activities that include people with government affiliation should resume. They are inexpensive and, by welcoming people to better understand us rather than trying to drive political change, they are more likely to succeed. [The] U.S. Embassy in Havana could sponsor vehicles offering non-political, non-coercive access to online information.”
  3. “Decontaminate democracy programs. The organizations that have already spent the $200 million dollars trying unsuccessfully to drive regime change should be bypassed to [have] . . . [legitimate] U.S. civil society organizations forging ties with Cuban counterparts. . . . For example, American librarians can ask their Cuban counterparts for lists of needed books and, with a U.S. grant, buy them so that Cuban youths get the information they need. Doctors eager to provide pro bono medical care should have access to funds to purchase and ship medications and equipment based on appraisals developed with on-the-ground contacts. U.S. and Cuban universities could use money to sponsor two-way exchanges of students whom they choose . . . . ”
  4. “Acknowledge that Cuba is changing. [Abandon U.S. bans on collaboration with entities connected with the Cuban government affiliated with the Cuban government.]”
  5. Abandon discreet or covert programs.

I concur in these suggestions.

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[1] Prior posts have criticized such programs: U.S. Secret Cuba Social Media Program Raises Questions about the Validity of Criticisms of Cuba by the U.S. commission on International Religious Freedom (April 4, 2014); U.S. Senate Hearing Discusses USAID’s Social Media Program for Cuba (April 9, 2014); What Is Wrong with the White House’s Plan for Democracy in Cuba? (April 9, 2014); Yet Another USAID Effort To Promote Regime Change in Cuba (Aug. 12, 2014); Another USAID Effort To Promote Regime Change in Cuba: U.S. Government’s Reactions (Aug. 13, 2014); Another USAID Effort To Promote Regime Change in Cuba: Other Reactions (Aug. 14, 2014); New York Times Criticizes USAID’s Efforts To Promote Regime Change in Cuba (Nov. 10, 2014); Email to President Obama Objecting to Covert or “Discreet” U.S. Government Programs Purportedly Promoting Democracy and Human Rights In Cuba (Jan. 7, 2015).

[2] Armstrong, U.S.-Cuba: Must “Democracy Promotion” Obstruct Normalization? (circa Sept. 2015).

 

Gratitude I

It is so easy to credit all of your successes to your own talents and hard work. I know that I too often do that.

Lately, however, I am pausing to acknowledge the many blessings in my life.

My mother and father, Marian Frances Brown and Ward Glenn Krohnke, were directly responsible for endowing me with good genes. They also were loving and nurturing, especially in my early years, and supporting my many activities through college and beyond. Although of modest financial circumstances, my parents were able to afford many of the creature comforts of American middle class life as I was growing up. I did not have to work to provide financial support for the family although in junior and senior high school I had part-time jobs to earn spending money and saving for college. My parents and I were in good health as I grew up with no major illnesses or accidents. I am grateful.

The public schools in my small Iowa home town of Perry did not provide many of the curricular and extra-curricular activities of private schools or large, prosperous suburban school districts in the rest of the country. Yet I had many excellent teachers who did not let me coast through school. The teacher I remember most fondly for this nurturing and challenging was Emma Hepker, who taught speech and English Literature. I also participated in speech contests, football, baseball, track and concert and marching band playing the e-flat alto saxophone. I often focused on the limitations of growing up in this small town far away from where things were really happening. But I can now see that there were benefits from this protective environment. I am grateful.

Grinnell College, the next stop on my educational journey, was challenging and enriching. My major was history with a lot of political science and economics. The professors were excellent, especially Joe Wall, Alan Jones, Samuel Barron, Richard Westfall and George Drake in history, Harold Fletcher in political science and Philip Thomas and John Dawson in economics. As a student at a small college I had the opportunity to participate in many activities, including intercollegiate baseball and football and student government. I am grateful.

In the midst of my Grinnell experience, I had one semester at American University on the Washington Semester Program. The focus was seminars and meetings with politicians, government officials and others as we learned about American government in our nation’s capitol. Professor Louis Loeb was the excellent leader of our group. Each of us also did independent research for a paper. My topic was the participation of political interest groups in the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of contempt of Congress cases, mostly coming from the House Un-American Activities Committee, which I thought itself was un-American. I spent a lot of time in the Supreme Court Library reading briefs of the parties and of amici curiae (friends of the court), usually the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Association of University Professors, and then comparing their arguments with the Court’s decisions. This was also the first time I had lived in a major city, and I thoroughly enjoyed its many cultural attraction. I am grateful.

After Grinnell, I had the tremendous privilege and honor of being a student for two years at the University of Oxford. There I studied or, as they say, “read” Philosophy, Politics and Economics. During the three eight-week terms of the academic year, each week I read suggested readings on two topics or issues and prepared essays for two tutorials, usually by myself, but sometimes with one other student. The tutors, especially John Sargent and Roger Opie in economics and Michael Hinton in philosophy, were warm and encouraging while pressing me onward. During the terms you could also attend university-wide lectures in the subjects while over the vacations or “vacs” you were expected to continue your readings in the three fields. At the end of my two years, I had university-wide examinations or “Schools” as they were given in a building called “The Examination Schools.” There were six required examinations (two each in the three disciplines) plus two optional subjects (mine were public finance and currency and credit). Each examination was three hours long, and you had to answer four questions from a printed list of about 12 questions. Your answers were then read and graded by a university-wide committee, and your overall grade or results were posted on the Oxford bulletin boards and published in the London Times. I am grateful.

I then returned to the U.S. for three years at the University of Chicago Law School. Whereas there was great student independence at Oxford, Chicago like most law schools had large classes with daily assignments, usually with professors grilling the students with questions about the cases or statutes we were studying. At the end of the semester there was the familiar practice of the course’s professor giving the final examinations. There were great professors at Chicago: Harry Kalven, Walter Blum, Francis Allen, David Currie, Philip Kurland, Phil Neal, Bernard Meltzer, Soia Mentschikoff and Kenneth Dam to name a few. I am grateful.

In 1966 I commenced practicing law with the Wall Street firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, probably the preeminent law firm in New York City. In my four years there as a junior associate, I worked on many interesting cases, usually with the “grunt” work. The senior lawyers for whom I worked helped me to “learn the ropes” of practicing law. Jack Hupper and Tom Barr were the most significant in that regard. I am grateful.

In 1970 my family and I moved to Minneapolis where I commenced what turned out to be a 31-year career with the law firm of Faegre & Benson (now Faegre Baker Daniels). Here too I worked with excellent lawyers who helped me develop my legal skills. I think especially of John French, Norman Carpenter, Larry Brown and Jim Loken; Jim is now a Judge of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. I am grateful.

After my retirement from Faegre in 2001, Professor David Weissbrodt at the University of Minnesota Law School asked me to help teach the international human rights course. I accepted the offer and did so for nine years (2002-10). I learned much more about this field of law and met many interesting students and faculty. I am grateful.

For all of these blessings, I give thanks to God and to those named and unnamed individuals who helped me along the way.