President Trump’s Message to the Cuban People 

On May 20, the anniversary of Cuba’s 1902 declaration of independence from the U.S. after what we in the U.S. call the Spanish-American War, U.S. President Donald Trump issued the following message to the Cuban people:[1]

  • “The twentieth of May marks the celebration of Cuban independence won by patriots who wished for individual freedom and the right of self-determination, both of which have been tragically snuffed out by a tired Communist regime.  Regardless, the brave people of Cuba continue to work—under continued oppression and extraordinarily difficult circumstances—to provide for their families and to restore human and civil rights.  The names of great Cuban leaders who fought for independence, such as José Martí and Antonio Maceo, echo through history alongside names like Washington and Jefferson.  The legacy of these leaders continues to inspire and encourage all peoples to remain committed to the fight for democracy and the restoration of political, economic, and religious freedoms.”
  • “The resilience of the Cuban people and the contributions of the Cuban-American community demand our respect.  We are grateful for the many contributions in the world of literature, the arts, music, cuisine, and entrepreneurship that these communities have given us.”
  • “To the people of Cuba who yearn for true freedom, and to the Cuban-Americans who reside in the United States, Melania and I send our warmest wishes.  On this special day, we remember the Cuban patriots who lit a flame of freedom that will never be fully extinguished as long as men and women can dream of a better tomorrow.  Let us recommit ourselves to a better, freer future for the Cuban people.”

This Trump statement requires several comments.

First, under the first Cuban Constitution of 1902, the U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations. Under the Platt Amendment, the U.S. leased the Guantánamo Bay naval base from Cuba. As a result, Cuba does not celebrate May 20. Indeed, for the U.S. to do so is an insult to Cuba.

Second, since 1959, Cubans celebrate their independence on July 26, the anniversary of the 1953 attack by Cuban rebels led by Fidel Castro on the Moncada Barracks,  a military barracks in Santiago de Cuba, named after the General Guillermón Moncada, a hero of the Cuban War of Independence.. This armed attack is widely accepted as the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.

Indeed, a prior post told the story of the speech on July 26, 1991, in Matanzas Cuba by South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, who was inspired by Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.

Third, the extent of political freedoms in Cuba today is a matter of debate with Trump expressing his Administration’s  very negative views on the subject.

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

[1] White House, Presidential Message on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2018); Trump calls for a ‘better and freer future’ for Cubans, Diario de Cuba (May 20, 2018). Trump issued a similar statement on May 20, 2017. (White House, Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2017).)

 

Argument Between Wall Street Journal and Cuba’s Ambassador to U.S.

The Wall Street Journal and the Cuban Ambassador to the U.S. are engaged in an argument that started with the newspaper’s April 22 editorial.

The Editorial[1]

 “Eighty-six-year-old Raúl Castro grabbed headlines last week when he ceded the title of president to 58-year-old civilian Miguel Diáz-Canel. Too bad this change at the top is nominal when it comes to freedom for the Cuban people.”

“Mr. Diáz-Canel is . . .[not] an independent thinker. Cubans have every reason to believe him when he says, as he did in his acceptance speech, that he is committed to preserving a police state. If Mr. Diáz-Canel wants to keep his job and privileges, human rights won’t be on his agenda.”

“Raúl still leads the Communist Party and has kept the two most powerful regime positions under his control. Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, his son, runs counterintelligence for the Interior Ministry that controls the secret police. Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, Raúl’s former son-in-law, is top dog at GAESA, the military’s holding company that owns the tourism industry, the shipping company, the airline, construction companies, auto imports and sales, the real-estate business, the banks and control of container traffic at the Port of Mariel. Ramiro Valdés, a regime enforcer, still sits on the Council of State, Cuba’s highest government body.”

. . . .

“Now Havana’s crime family has again run out of other peoples’ money. Its largest sources of hard currency are the doctors and nurses who live in poverty while Cuba “rents” them to countries around the world. Yet even this multibillion-dollar human trafficking isn’t enough to support the broken Cuban economy.”

“President Trump has reined in some of Barack Obama’s executive orders that made it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. But the regime’s bigger problem is that investors who kick the tires on the Castro jalopy increasingly walk away. There are plenty of opportunities in emerging markets these days, and the smart money doesn’t want gangsters for partners.”

“Promises of greater economic freedom for Cubans have never materialized. Small businesses can operate as long as they are subsistence operations. But they can’t hire and the regime has again cracked down on permitting lest it lose control. Cuba’s poverty suggests something has to change. But liberalization is not in the interests of the Castro family or the military. And they’re still in charge.”

The Cuban Ambassador’s Response[2]

On May 6 Cuban Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez responded to this editorial with the following letter to the Journal.

“The U.S. corporate press has always been predictable in its articles on Cuba and even more so when it comes to its editorials. Newspapers such as yours were against Cubans being free from Spanish power in the 19th century. Later on, they commended local corrupt politicians who supported the invasion—first militarily and then economically by American companies during the first half of the 20th century. Finally, those newspapers relentlessly demonized the Cuban Revolution since 1959.”

“However, I was caught off guard by the sordidness of the language used by your editorial board when referring to my country. It is the typical exercise of those who are left without arguments. There is still a financial, economic and commercial embargo imposed on Cuba intended to starve our population into submission. However, the information blockade has decreased. Americans massively travel to Cuba and 75% of them support a better relationship with our country.”

“Your renewed efforts to promote the business of the ‘dissidence’ in Cuba will not have the slightest success. History is wise and has forgotten (and will forget) the names of the annexationists of Cuban origins, but any educated human being who inhabits the earth today will be able to tell you about Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, José Martí, Antonio Maceo, Julio Antonio Mella, Ernesto Guevara and Fidel Castro; those are the names of the pro-independence figures.”

“To maintain a part of the audience you still have, before criticizing Cuba again, or any other Latin American or Caribbean country for that matter, please start by looking at yourselves in the mirror.”

Conclusion

Although I believe that U.S. policies regarding Cuba are heading the wrong direction in the Trump Administration and deplore its abandonment of many (but not all) aspects of  the Obama Administration’s opening of relations with Cuba and although I have met and respect the Cuban Ambassador, this exchange or argument is unsatisfying.[3]

The Journal, given its general support of free markets and capitalism, should have (a) encouraged the Cuban government to engage in further efforts to promote the expansion of its private sector of bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants and other ventures and (b) criticized some of the Trump Administration’s policies that discourage such Cuban expansion of free enterprise and markets.

Such efforts enable Cubans to increase their financial circumstances and offer better-paying jobs to other Cubans and thereby provide the Cuban economy with desperately needed boosts. Cuba’s efforts last year to restrict such expansion were misguided out of fears of changes.

This would have forced the Cuban Ambassador into the difficult position of trying to justify the regime’s clamp-down last year of expansion of the private sector.  The Ambassador in this hypothetical, however, could have argued that the Cuban Government needed to be cautious on these issues because of illegitimate U.S. efforts, overtly and covertly over many years, to promote regime change in Cuba.

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

[1] Editorial, Cuba Gets a Castro Convertible, W.S.J. (April 22, 2018).

[2] Letter to Editor, Cabañas to W.S. J., W.S.J. (May 6, 2018).

[3] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.