Bobby Kennedy’s Obsession with Combatting Communist Cuba  

A new biography of Bobby Kennedy documents his obsession with Communist Cuba while he served as U.S. Attorney General in the administration of his brother, President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963).[1]

Background

Bobby’s obsession was fueled by the anti-communism of his father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, a successful Boston businessman, Ambassador to Great Britain for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and later financial contributor to the campaign war chests of U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy., the noted anti-communist. This in turn led to Bobby’s working for seven and a half months in 1953 as an aide to McCarthy and to a personal connection between the two men that lasted until McCarthy’s funeral in 1957. According to the biographer, “the early Bobby Kennedy embraced the overheated anticommunism of the 1950s and openly disdained liberals.” (Ch. 1.) [2]

The Bay of Pigs Invasion

Although Bobby “had played little part in planning or executing the [unsuccessful] Bay of Pigs raid” in April 1961, immediately thereafter he sought to do “whatever was needed to protect his brother’s [political] flank.” The President put him second-in-charge of the Cuba Study Group to determine what had gone wrong, and over six weeks Bobby and the three others on the committee focused on flawed tactics and slack bureaucracy, not the goals and ethics, of the invasion. Afterwards the President redoubled his engagement in the Cold War while not fully trusting his generals and spies. (Pp. 240-46.)

“Operation Mongoose”

As a result of that review, Bobby concluded that “that son of a bitch [Fidel] has to go” and became the de facto man in charge of the CIA’s “Operation Mongoose” to conduct a clandestine war against Fidel and Cuba. This Operation had 600 CIA agents and nearly 5,000 contract workers and a Miami station with its own polygraph teams, gas station and warehouse stocked with machine guns, caskets and other things plus a secret flotilla of yachts, fishing craft, speedboats and other vessels. It conducted paramilitary missions on the island, including the demolition of a Cuban railroad bridge. This Operation was based, says the biographer, on the flawed premises that the “Cuban problem [was] the top priority of the [U.S.] Government—all else is secondary—no time, money, effort or manpower is to be spared,” that “the Cuban population would rally to the anti-Castro cause” and that the U.S. secret army of Cuban exiles could “vanquish anybody.” (Pp. 247-52.)

The Operation planned and tried to execute plans to kill Fidel. Afterwards Richard Helms, then the CIA’s director of clandestine operations, observed that Bobby had stated, “Castro’s removal from office and a change in government in Cuba were then the primary foreign policy objectives” of the administration. (Id.)

The Cuban Missile Crisis

Fidel and the Soviet Union were aware of this supposed secret U.S. operation and convinced “Khrushchev he was doing the right thing by installing [Soviet] missiles” in Cuba in the summer of 1962. (P. 251.)

During the start of the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, Bobby doubted whether an air strike on the missiles on the island would be enough and pondered whether it should be followed by an all-out invasion. He also suggested staging an incident at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay by sinking a U.S. ship akin to the sinking of the Maine that was the excuse for the U.S. entry into the Cuban war of independence in the late 19th century. (Pp. 263-66.)

After the President had decided on a blockade of the island, Bobby rallied support for that effort, but 10 days later he wondered whether it would be better to knock out the missiles with a U.S. air attack. (Pp. 264-66.)

Later the President and Bobby decided to accept Khrushchev’s demand for the U.S. to remove its missiles in Turkey in exchange for the Soviets’ removal of its missiles in Cuba while the U.S. part of this deal was kept secret. (Pp. 267-69.)

Aftermath

After the crisis was over, the U.S. eventually discovered that the threat from Cuba was greater than perceived at the time. The Soviets had more missiles with greater capability to take out short-range targets like Guantanamo Bay plus long-range ones like New York City. The Soviets also had 43,000 troops on the island, not the 10,000 the U.S. had thought. The Soviets also had on the island lightweight rocket launchers to repel any attacks with nuclear weapons. And the Soviet submarines in the region had nuclear-tipped torpedoes with authorizations to be used if war broke out. Moreover, Fidel at the time had encouraged Khrushchev to launch a preemptive nuclear strike on the U.S. in the event of an U.S. invasion of the island. (Pp. 272-73.)[3]

In any event, in April 1963 Bobby commissioned three studies: (1) possible U.S. responses to the death of Fidel or the shooting down of a U-2 spy plane; (2) a program to overthrow Fidel in 18 months; and (3) ways to “cause as much trouble as we can for Communist Cuba.” (Pp. 275-76.)[4]

Bobby subsequently wrote a memoir of the crisis that was intended for publication in 1968 as part of his campaign for the presidential nomination, but that did not happen because of his assassination that year. Instead it was posthumously published in 1969.[5] The biographer, Larry Tye, concludes that this memoir was untruthful in many details and was intended, for political purposes, as “a fundamentally self-serving account that casts him as the champion dove . . . rather than the unrelenting hawk he actually was through much of [the crisis].” The “biggest deceit’ of the book, again according to Nye, was “the failure to admit that the Soviet buildup [in Cuba] was a predictable response to [the] American aggression [of the previously mentioned Bay of Pigs invasion and Operation Mongoose].” (P. 239.)

Nevertheless, the biographer concludes that during the missile crisis Bobby “drew on his skills as an interrogator and listener to recognize the best ideas” offered by others and “ensured that the president heard the full spectrum of views” of those officials. In addition, Bobby was effective as an intermediary with the Soviet Ambassador. (P. 270.) Finally, the crisis helped to mature Bobby. He slowly saw “that a leader could be tough without being bellicose, [found] . . . his [own] voice on foreign affairs . . . and [stepped] out of his brother’s long shadow.” (P. 282.)

Conclusion

In the summer of 1960, through an internship from Grinnell College, I was an assistant to the Chair of the Democratic Party of Iowa and, therefore, was thrilled with John F. Kennedy’s election as president.[6]

Cuba, however, at that time was not high on my list of priorities and I was not knowledgeable about U.S.-Cuba issues. Thus, in April 1961 I have no memory of the Bay of Pigs debacle in the last semester of my senior year at Grinnell.

In October 1962 my ignorance of U.S.-Cuba issues continued during the start of my second year at Oxford University as the Cuban missile crisis unfolded. But I do recall listening to radio reports of these events and wondering whether they would lead to my being drafted and forced to return to the U.S. for military service. That, however, never happened.[7]

My interest in Cuba only began in 2001 when I was on the Cuba Task Force at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church to explore whether and how our church could be involved with Cuba. The result was our establishment in 2002 of partnerships with a Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Cuba in the city of Matanzas on the north coast of the island and with its national denomination. Thereafter I went on three mission trips to Cuba and started to learn about the history of U.S.-Cuba relations, to follow the current news on that subject and to become an advocate for normalization and reconciliation of our two peoples.[8]

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

[1] Larry Tye, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, Ch. 6 (Random House, New York, 2016).

[2] There are seven blog posts about Joseph Welch, the attorney for the U.S. Army in the McCarthy-Army hearings of 1954, that are listed in Posts to dwkcommentarires—Topical: UNITED STATES (HISTORY).

[3] The Cuban missile crisis has been the subject of the following posts to dwkcommetaries.com: Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev’s Messages During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (Sept. 5, 2016); Conflicting Opinions Regarding the Relative Strength of U.S. and Soviet Missiles, 1960-1962 (Nov. 2, 2016); Fidel Castro’s Disingenuous Criticism of President Obama Over Nuclear Weapons (Aug. 15, 2016).

[4] After Bobby’s 1964 resignation as Attorney General, there apparently also was a 1966 CIA operation to assassinate Fidel. (See Covert CIA 1966 Operation To Assassinate Fidel Castro?, dwkcommentaries.com (May 30, 2016).)

[5] Robert Kennedy, Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (W.F. Norton & Co., New York, 1969).

[6] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: My Grinnell College Years (Aug. Aug. 27, 2011); Encounters with Candidates JFK and LBJ (Apr. 16, 2011).

[7] Another post to dwkcommentaries.com: My Oxford University Years (Aug. 30, 2011).

[8] My many posts about Cuba are collected in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

President Raúl Castro Discusses Cuba-U.S. Relations

On July 14, Raúl Castro Ruz, Army General, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, addressed a session of Cuba’s legislature (the National Assembly of People’s Power).[1]

A previous post discussed his remarks about Cuba’s private sector. He also made the following comments about the history of Cuba-U.S. relations.[2]

Present Castro’s Comments

President Trump’s Policies Regarding Cuba

“This past June 16, the President of the [U.S.], Donald Trump, announced his administration’s policy toward Cuba, nothing novel for sure, since he retook a discourse and elements from the confrontational past, which showed their absolute failure for over 55 years.”

“It is evident that the U.S. President has not been well informed on the history of Cuba and its relations with the [U.S.], or on the patriotism and dignity of the Cuban people.”

Cuba-U.S. Relations, 1789-2014

“History cannot be forgotten, as they have at times suggested we do. For more than 200 years, the ties between Cuba and the [U.S.] have been marked, on the one hand, by the pretensions of the northern neighbor to dominate our country, and on the other, by the determination of Cubans to be free, independent, and sovereign.”

“Throughout the entire 19th century, invoking the doctrines and policies of Manifest Destiny, of Monroe, and the ‘ripe fruit,’ different U.S. administrations tried to take possession of Cuba, and despite the heroic struggle of the mambises,[3] they did so in 1898, with a deceitful intervention at the end of the war which for 30 years Cubans had waged for their independence, and which the U.S. troops entered as allies and then became occupiers. Negotiating with Spain behind Cuba’s back, they militarily occupied the country for four years, demobilizing the Liberation Army, dissolving the Revolutionary Cuban Party – organized, founded, and led by Martí – and imposed an appendix to the Constitution of the nascent republic, the Platt Amendment, which gave them the right to intervene in our internal affairs and establish, among others, the naval base in Guantánamo, which still today usurps part of the national territory, the return of which we will continue to demand.”

“Cuba’s neocolonial condition, which allowed the [U.S.] to exercise total control over the economic and political life of the island, frustrated, but did not annihilate, the Cuban people’s longing for freedom and independence. Exactly 60 years later, January 1, 1959, with the triumph of the Revolution led by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro, we became definitively free and independent.”

“From that moment on, the strategic goal of U.S. policy toward Cuba has been to overthrow the Revolution. To do so, over more than five decades, they resorted to dissimilar methods: economic war, breaking diplomatic relations, armed invasion, attempts to assassinate our principal leaders, sabotage, a naval blockade, the creation and support of armed bands, state terrorism, internal subversion, the economic, commercial, financial blockade, and international isolation.”

Cuba-U.S. Relations, 2014-2017

“Ten administrations held office until President Barack Obama, in his statement of December 17, 2014, without renouncing the strategic goal, had the good sense to recognize that isolation had not worked, and that it was time for a new focus toward Cuba.”

“No one could deny that the [U.S.], in its attempts to isolate Cuba, in the end found itself profoundly isolated. The policy of hostility and blockade toward our country had become a serious obstacle to relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, and was rejected almost unanimously by the international community. Within U.S. society, growing majority opposition to this policy had developed, including among a good portion of the Cuban émigré community.”

“In the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, in 2012, Ecuador refused to participate if Cuba was not permitted to attend, and all Latin American and Caribbean countries expressed their rejection of the blockade and Cuba’s exclusion from these events. Many countries warned that another meeting would not take place without Cuba. As such, we arrived in April 2015 – three years later – to the Seventh Summit in Panama, invited for the very first time.”

“Over the last two years, and working on the basis of respect and equality, diplomatic relations have been reestablished and progress made toward resolving pending bilateral matters, as well as cooperation on issues of mutual interest and benefit; limited modifications were made to the implementation of some aspects of the blockade. The two countries established the bases from which to work toward building a new type of relationship, demonstrating that civil coexistence is possible despite profound differences.”

“At the end of President Obama’s term in office, the blockade, the Naval Base in Guantánamo, and the regime change policy, remained in place.”

Cuba-U.S. Relations, 2017–

“The announcements made by the current U.S. President, last June 16, represent a step back in bilateral relations. This is the opinion of many people and organizations in the [U.S.] and around the world, who have overwhelmingly expressed their outright rejection of the announced changes. This sentiment was also expressed by our youth and student organizations, Cuban women, workers, campesinos, Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, intellectuals, and religious groups, on behalf of the vast majority of the nation’s citizens.”

“The U.S. government has decided to tighten the blockade by imposing new obstacles on its businesspeople to trade and invest in Cuba, and additional restrictions on its citizens to travel to the country – justifying these measures with out-dated rhetoric regarding the Cuban people’s exercise and enjoyment of human rights and democracy.”

“President Trump’s decision disregards the support of broad sectors of U.S. society, including the majority of Cuban émigrés, for lifting of the blockade and normalization of relations, and only satisfies the interests of an increasingly isolated, minority group of Cuban origin in South Florida, who insist on harming Cuba and its people for having chosen to defend, at any cost, their right to be free, independent, and sovereign.”

“Today, we reiterate the Revolutionary Government’s condemnation of measures to tighten the blockade, and reaffirm that any attempt to destroy the Revolution, whether through coercion and pressure, or the use of subtle methods, will fail.”

“We likewise reject manipulation of the issue of human rights against Cuba, which has many reasons to be proud of its achievements, and does not need to receive lessons from the [U.S.] or anyone else.”

“I wish to repeat, as I did so in the CELAC Summit held in the Dominican Republic in January of this year, that Cuba is willing to continue discussing pending bilateral issues with the [U.S.], on the basis of equality and respect for the sovereignty and independence of our country, and to continue respectful dialogue and cooperation in issues of common interest with the U.S. government.”

“Cuba and the [U.S.] can cooperate and coexist, respecting our differences and promoting everything that benefits both countries and peoples, but it should not be expected that, in order to do so, Cuba will make concessions essential to its sovereignty and independence. [N]or will it negotiate its principles or accept conditions of any kind, just as we have never done throughout the history of the Revolution.”

“Despite what the government of the [U.S.] does, or does not decide to do, we will continue advancing along the path sovereignly chosen by our people.”

Conclusion

Castro’s review of the history of these relations was succinct, fact-based, fair and necessary for the two countries’ moving forward in a positive direction.

Moreover, the two countries, as Castro said, should be “willing to continue discussing pending bilateral issues . . . on the basis of equality and respect for the sovereignty and independence of [each] country, and to continue respectful dialogue and cooperation in issues of common interest.” The two countries should be able to “cooperate and coexist, respecting our differences and promoting everything that benefits both countries and peoples.”

These principles should govern U.S. relations with Cuba and every other country in the world.

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

[1] Castro Ruz, We will continue to advance along the path freely chosen by our people, Granma (July 17, 2017).

[2] Various aspects of this history have been discussed in the posts identified in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

[3]Mambises” refers to the guerrilla Cuban independence soldiers who fought against Spain in the Ten Years’ War (1868–78) and Cuban War of Independence (1895–98).

 

Fidel Castro’s Disingenuous Criticism of President Obama Over Nuclear Weapons

As reported in a prior post, Fidel Castro on August 12, 2016, criticized President Obama over his not apologizing to Japan over the 1945 U.S. dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This criticism on its face was unfair. Although Obama in his recent speech at Hiroshima did not apologize, he recounted the horror of the bombing and stressed the need for the U.S. and other countries to eliminate nuclear weapons.

Fidel’s criticism of Obama also was disingenuous because near the end of what we call the Cuban Missile Crisis Fidel was urging the Soviet Union to conduct a nuclear attack on the U.S. and to keep its nuclear missiles in Cuba. Here are the details according to historians with access to original records.[1]

Background: The Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Let us first, however, set the stage for these remarks by Fidel from what is now known.

In April 1961 at the start of the third year of the Cuban Revolution’s operation of the Cuban government, a CIA-sponsored paramilitary group conducted an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba’s de Playa Girón (the Bay of Pigs).[2]

Soon thereafter, Fidel Castro told the Cuban people, “The result of aggression against Cuba will be the start of a conflagration of incalculable consequences, and they will be affected too. It will no longer be a matter of them feasting on us. They will get as good as they give.”

In July 1961, at a secret meeting of Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev, the Premier of the Soviet Union agreed to Castro’s request to station nuclear missiles on the island to deter U.S. harassment of Cuba. Later that summer construction commenced on the sites for such missiles.

On October 14, 1962, an American U-2 spy plane making a high-altitude pass over Cuba photographed a Soviet medium-range ballistic missile being assembled for installation.[3]

On October 16, 1962, President Kennedy was briefed about the situation, and he immediately called together a group of advisors and officials. For nearly the next two weeks, the president and his team wrestled with this weighty crisis as did their counterparts in the Soviet Union.

On October 22, 1962, in a national television broadcast President Kennedy notified the American people about the presence of the missiles, explained his decision to enact a naval blockade of shipping to and from Cuba and made it clear that the U.S. was prepared to use military force if necessary to neutralize this perceived threat to U.S. national security.

On October 24, Soviet ships bound for Cuba neared the line of U.S. vessels enforcing the blockade, but stopped short of the blockade.

On October 26, Khrushchev sent a message to Kennedy offering to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for a promise by U.S. leaders not to invade Cuba. The letter stated, “Let us then display statesmenlike wisdom. I propose: we, for our part, will declare that our ships bound for Cuba are not carrying any armaments. You will declare that the United States will not invade Cuba with its troops and will not support any other forces which might intend to invade Cuba. Then the necessity for the presence of our military specialists in Cuba will be obviated.”

The following day, the Soviet leader sent a second letter proposing that the Soviets would dismantle its missiles in Cuba if the Americans removed their missile installations in Turkey.

The Kennedy administration decided to accept the terms of the first letter, and on October 28, Robert F. Kennedy, the Attorney General, hand delivered to the Soviet Ambassador in Washington the administration’s letter accepting the terms of the first message. (The administration officially ignored the second letter, but privately agreed to withdraw U.S. missiles from Turkey.)

On October 28, the immediate crisis drew to a close with a joint U.S. and Soviet announcement of the agreement.

On November 20, 1962, after all Soviet offensive missiles and light bombers had been withdrawn from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended.

Fidel’s Urging Nuclear Armageddon and Nuclear Missiles in Cuba

In the midst of this crisis Fidel strenuously objected to the Soviets removing nuclear missiles from Cuba and pleaded for those missiles to remain on the island. “Castro fumed. He had been bypassed in negotiations between the two superpowers. Set on keeping the nuclear warheads [on the island], he began to chafe at his handlers in Moscow.”

On October 26, Castro summoned the Soviet Ambassador, Aleksandr Alekseev, to the Cuban command post. Fidel could not understand why Soviet troops in Cuba were sitting on their hands while American planes were flying over the island with impunity. He urged them to start shooting at U-2 spy planes with surface-to-air missiles and suggested that Cuban troops should begin firing on low-flying planes with antiaircraft guns, contrary to Soviet wishes. Alekseev promised to relay Castro’s complaints to the Kremlin.

Very early the next day, October 27, Castro, unaware of Kennedy and Khrushchev’s progress toward a deal, decided to send a cable to Khrushchev, encouraging him to use his nuclear weapons to destroy the United States in the event of an invasion of Cuba. At 3:00 a.m., he arrived at the Soviet Embassy in Havana and told Ambassador Alekseev that they should go into the bunker beneath the embassy because a U.S. attack was imminent. According to declassified Soviet cables, a groggy but sympathetic Alekseev agreed, and soon they were set up underground with Castro dictating and aides transcribing and translating a letter.

Castro became frustrated, uncertain about what to say. After nine drafts, with the sun rising, Alekseev finally confronted Castro: are you asking Comrade Khrushchev to deliver a nuclear strike on the U.S.? Castro responded, “If they attack Cuba, we should wipe them off the face of the earth!” Alekseev was shocked, but he dutifully assisted Castro in fine-tuning the 10th and final draft of the cable and then cabled it to Moscow.

That cable stated that in the event of an American invasion, “the danger that that aggressive policy poses for humanity is so great that following that event the Soviet Union must never allow the circumstances in which the imperialists could launch the first nuclear strike against it.” A U.S. invasion of Cuba “would be the moment to eliminate such danger forever through an act of clear, legitimate defense however harsh and terrible the solution would be, for there is no other.”

Premier Khrushchev, according to his son and biographer, received the Castro cable in the midst of a tense leadership meeting and shouted, “This is insane; Fidel wants to drag us into the grave with him!” Khrushchev had not understood that Castro believed that Cuba was doomed, that war was inevitable, and that the Soviets should transform Cuba from a mere victim into a world martyr.

To calm Castro down, Khrushchev in early November sent Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan to Havana. Mikoyan initially told Castro he could keep the tactical nukes that had escaped U.S. notice. On November 20, Castro instructed Cuba’s U.N. ambassador to tell the world that Cuba possessed tactical nuclear warheads, but that announcement was never made because Mikoyan said all Soviet missiles had to be removed from the island.

This rescission happened on November 22 after Mikoyan on his own had concluded that Castro could not be trusted and that the USSR could not control Cuba. Mikoyan told Castro that a Soviet law — which did not exist — banned a permanent transfer to the Cubans. Fidel responded, “So you have a law that prohibits transfer of tactical nuclear weapons to other countries? It’s a pity. And when are you going to repeal that law?” Mikoyan merely said, “We will see.”

Conclusion

When, Fidel, did you offer an apology for your 1962 efforts to threaten the United States and the world with nuclear Armageddon? You are not a wizened guru of world peace.

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

[1] Bright & Lang, How Castro Held the World Hostage, N.Y. Times (Oct. 25, 2012); Bright & Lang, The Armageddon Letters: Kennedy/Khrushchev/Castro in the Cuban MIssile Crisis (2012); Mikoyan & Savranskaya (ed.), The Soviet Cuban Missile Crisis: Castro, Mikoyan, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Missiles (2012); Cuban Missile Crisis’ Untold Story: Casto Almost Kept Nuclear Warheads on the Island, Huff. Post (Oct. 15, 2012). James G. Blight and Janet M. Lang are professors at the Balsillie School of International Affairs (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) and the authors of “The Armageddon Letters: Kennedy/Khrushchev/Castro in the Cuban Missile Crisis.” Many of the documents mentioned above have been donated to George Washington University’s National Security Archive by the son of Anastas Mikoyan, Sergo Mikoyan, who with the Archive’s researcher, Svetlana Savranskaya, co-authored the previously mentioned “The Soviet Cuba Missile Crisis.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[2] Invasion of Bar of Pigs, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bay_of_Pigs_Invasion

 

[3] Cuban Missile Crisis, History, http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/cuban-missile-crisis

Nikita– https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikita_Khrushchev

 

U.S. and Cuba Discuss Their Claims Against Each Other

On July 28 and 29, the United States and Cuba met in Washington, D.C. to discuss their claims against each other.[1]

The U.S. State Department’s terse announcement after the first session merely said that the parties exchanged “further details on outstanding claims . . . [that] build upon the previous claims discussion in Havana, Cuba. It also allowed for an exchange of views on historical claims settlement practices and processes going forward.” The “U.S. claims include claims of U.S. nationals that were certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, claims related to unsatisfied U.S. court judgments against Cuba, and claims of the United States Government. The United States continues to view the resolution of these claims as a top priority for normalization.” The U.S. delegation was led by Brian Egan, the Legal Adviser for the U.S. Department of State. Nothing was said in this announcement regarding Cuba’s claims against the U.S.

The next morning, July 29, an unnamed senior State Department official gave this background briefing on these discussions:

  • The U.S. “began our bilateral claims dialogue with Cuba last December in Havana. . . . Yesterday, we concluded a second meeting with the Cuban Government on claims. . . . in Washington. While at the first meeting the two sides exchanged information on the various claims [of] each side . . ., the second meeting was more substantive in nature, both in exploring more of the details about the claims . . . but also in reviewing the practices of both countries in resolving claims with other countries and how those practices could provide options for resolving these claims. . . .”
  • These claims “include claims of U.S. nationals that were certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission many years ago, claims related to unsatisfied U.S. court judgments against Cuba, and claims of the U.S. Government. The Government of Cuba also provided further details about claims that it has against the United States. . . [relating] to the embargo and to human damages that have been adjudicated by its courts.”
  • The two countries “do not currently have a scheduled meeting [in Havana] for the next round. The U.S. delegation expressed its desire to resolve the claims as quickly as possible, and we indicated that we were willing to dedicate a substantial amount of time and energy towards trying to get to resolution. I think both sides agreed that we would have more regular meetings and that we would continue to pursue this matter in the established diplomatic channels.”
  • “Cuba has resolved outstanding expropriation claims with several countries in the last two decades . . . [although] they were much, much smaller in scope . . . . [The U.S. has] lots of practice in claims settlement involving expropriation claims, involving outstanding court judgments and government-to-government claims. . . . [We] all recognize that the complexity and the scope of [these] . . . claims . . . [and we] will have to . . . draw on all those examples, but that we’ll probably have to figure out something that is unique to this particular claims matter”.
  • For the U.S. claims, there are “claims of U.S. nationals relating to expropriations that date back to the late 1950s and 1960s. Those were adjudicated by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission in two separate programs, and the total principal of what they negotiated was $1.9 billion. And the Commission then also awarded 6 percent interest on that. So we have indicated that obviously that’s part of it. We also know that in terms of U.S. court [default] judgments, there are approximately $2.2 billion of judgments outstanding against Cuba. That include – that’s compensatory damages and punitive damages . . . . [The] U.S. Government claims are in the hundred to couple hundred millions of dollars and relate to interests that the U.S. Government had in mining interests in Cuba back in the ’50s.”
  • Cuba has “embargo claims and their human damages claims relate to two . . . outstanding judgments . . . against the United States rendered by Cuban courts. The human damages claim – the judgment was for $181 billion. We understand that that number could be higher. And for the economic damages judgment, we understand that that judgment was for $121 billion, but again, that number might be higher. . . . Cuba also has a claim for blocked assets, but there hasn’t really been a solid number . . . , because the amount of blocked assets has fluctuated over time.”
  • The “most traditional type of claim settlement . . . for claims of this nature would be a bilateral agreement that sets out the scope of the claims that are to be resolved with releases for those claims from the other government. Sometimes a lump sum of money is then provided in settlement of the claims.”
  • Some of Cuba’s past “claim settlements have related to “the liquidation of various products that are provided or bonds that are provided. But we’re looking at everything at this point and trying to figure out what might be the most appropriate way forward. . . .”
  • The parties have not yet addressed the impact of the continuing U.S. embargo on Cuba’s claim for alleged economic damages from the embargo.
  • “Traditionally, claims come up in normalization. And obviously, as part of normalization, there are frictions or claims that accrue on both sides. Where there has been a blocking of assets, there have traditionally been claims for actions by the United States to block assets and take those kinds of measures and those kinds of issues have been dealt with in prior claims settlements.”
  • Cuba explained how these [Cuban court default] judgments [against the U.S.] came into place: the Cuban laws that gave rise to the jurisdiction for the courts to hear these kinds of claims. There was a general description of the types of elements that went into the economic damages or the human damages types of claims. But we didn’t hear any specific breakouts of numbers on those categories.”
  • “It’s very, very difficult to say [how long these discussions will take].”
  • There is “nothing about this negotiation that is any different from our experiences in dealing with claims with other countries. . . . We are having very substantive discussions. [B]oth sides seem to agree that we need to have more regular meetings. . . . [and] are committed to try to resolve this in a mutually satisfactory manner, drawing on the experiences of claims resolution by both governments.”
  • We have not heard . . . [any] unwillingness to settle claims. [The discussions have been positive.]”

Other sources provide some additional details. Cuba claims the U.S. owes billions in damages resulting from events such as the Bay of Pigs invasion (176 deaths and more than 300 Cubans wounded), the 1976 bombing of Cubana de Aviacion flight 455 that killed all 73 passengers and other deadly U.S.-sponsored incursions on the island. Cuba also mentioned Cuban court default judgments in which the U.S. was found liable for $181 billion of human damages and economic damages.

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

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Claims Discussion (July 28, 2016); U.S. State Dep’t, Senior State Department Official on Cuba Claims Discussions (July 29, 2016); Whitefield, U.S. and Cuba agree to meet more to expedite claims process, InCubaToday (July 29, 2016); Reuters, U.S., Cuba Hold ‘Substantive’ Second Round Talk on Claims, N.Y. Times (July 29, 2016); Held second meeting on Cuba-US trade-offs, CubaDebate (July 28, 2016). This blog has discussed these claims and how they might be resolved. See “U.S. & Cuba Damages Claims” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

 

Fidel Castro Challenges President Obama’s Call To Forget the Past 

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro

On March 28, Fidel Castro published a lengthy commentary on President Obama’s recent trip to Cuba In the Spanish-language original edition of Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party. Here is the complete commentary from Granma’s English translation of those comments followed by my reactions.[1]

Fidel’s Commentary

“The kings of Spain brought us the conquistadores and masters, whose footprints remained in the circular land grants assigned to those searching for gold in the sands of rivers, an abusive and shameful form of exploitation, traces of which can be noted from the air in many places around the country.”

“Tourism today, in large part, consists of viewing the delights of our landscapes and tasting exquisite delicacies from our seas, and is always shared with the private capital of large foreign corporations, whose earnings, if they don’t reach billions of dollars, are not worthy of any attention whatsoever.”

“Since I find myself obliged to mention the issue, I must add – principally for the youth – that few people are aware of the importance of such a condition, in this singular moment of human history. I would not say that time has been lost, but I do not hesitate to affirm that we are not adequately informed, not you, nor us, of the knowledge and conscience that we must have to confront the realities which challenge us. The first to be taken into consideration is that our lives are but a fraction of a historical second, which must also be devoted in part to the vital necessities of every human being. One of the characteristics of this condition is the tendency to overvalue its role, in contrast, on the other hand, with the extraordinary number of persons who embody the loftiest dreams.”

“Nevertheless, no one is good or bad entirely on their own. None of us is designed for the role we must assume in a revolutionary society, although Cubans had the privilege of José Martí’s example. I even ask myself if he needed to die or not in Dos Ríos, when he said, “For me, it’s time,” and charged the Spanish forces entrenched in a solid line of firepower. He did not want to return to the United States, and there was no one who could make him. Someone ripped some pages from his diary. Who bears this treacherous responsibility, undoubtedly the work of an unscrupulous conspirator? Differences between the leaders were well known, but never indiscipline. “Whoever attempts to appropriate Cuba will reap only the dust of its soil drenched in blood, if he does not perish in the struggle,” stated the glorious Black leader Antonio Maceo. Máximo Gómez is likewise recognized as the most disciplined and discreet military chief in our history.”

“Looking at it from another angle, how can we not admire the indignation of Bonifacio Byrne when, from a distant boat returning him to Cuba, he saw another flag alongside that of the single star and declared, “My flag is that which has never been mercenary…” immediately adding one of the most beautiful phrases I have ever heard, “If it is torn to shreds, it will be my flag one day… our dead raising their arms will still be able to defend it!” Nor will I forget the blistering words of Camilo Cienfuegos that night, when, just some tens of meters away, bazookas and machine guns of U.S. origin in the hands of counterrevolutionaries were pointed toward that terrace on which we stood.”

“Obama was born in August of 1961, as he himself explained. More than half a century has transpired since that time.”

“Let us see, however, how our illustrious guest thinks today:”

“I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” followed by a deluge of concepts entirely novel for the majority of us:

“We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans,” the U.S. President continued, “Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa. Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave-owners.”

“The native populations don’t exist at all in Obama’s mind. Nor does he say that the Revolution swept away racial discrimination, or that pensions and salaries for all Cubans were decreed by it before Mr. Barrack Obama was 10 years old. The hateful, racist bourgeois custom of hiring strongmen to expel Black citizens from recreational centers was swept away by the Cuban Revolution – that which would go down in history for the battle against apartheid that liberated Angola, putting an end to the presence of nuclear weapons on a continent of more than a billion inhabitants. This was not the objective of our solidarity, but rather to help the peoples of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and others under the fascist colonial domination of Portugal.”

“In 1961, just one year and three months after the triumph of the Revolution, a mercenary force with armored artillery and infantry, backed by aircraft, trained and accompanied by U.S. warships and aircraft carriers, attacked our country by surprise. Nothing can justify that perfidious attack which cost our country hundreds of losses, including deaths and injuries

As for the pro-yankee assault brigade, no evidence exists anywhere that it was possible to evacuate a single mercenary. Yankee combat planes were presented before the United Nations as the equipment of a Cuban uprising.”

“The military experience and power of this country is very well known. In Africa, they likewise believed that revolutionary Cuba would be easily taken out of the fight. The invasion via southern Angola by racist South African motorized brigades got close to Luanda, the capital in the eastern part of the country. There a struggle began which went on for no less than 15 years. I wouldn’t even talk about this, if I didn’t have the elemental duty to respond to Obama’s speech in Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater.

Nor will I attempt to give details, only emphasize that an honorable chapter in the struggle for human liberation was written there. In a certain way, I hoped Obama’s behavior would be correct. His humble origin and natural intelligence were evident. Mandela was imprisoned for life and had become a giant in the struggle for human dignity. One day, a copy of a book narrating part of Mandela’s life reached my hands, and – surprise! – the prologue was by Barack Obama. I rapidly skimmed the pages. The miniscule size of Mandela’s handwriting noting facts was incredible. Knowing men such as him was worthwhile.”

?Regarding the episode in South Africa I must point out another experience. I was really interested in learning more about how the South Africans had acquired nuclear weapons. I only had very precise information that there were no more than 10 or 12 bombs. A reliable source was the professor and researcher Piero Gleijeses, who had written the text Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976, an excellent piece. I knew he was the most reliable source on what had happened and I told him so; he responded that he had not spoken more about the matter as in the text he had responded to questions from compañero Jorge Risquet, who had been Cuban ambassador and collaborator in Angola, a very good friend of his. I located Risquet; already undertaking other important tasks he was finishing a course which would last several weeks longer. That task coincided with a fairly recent visit by Piero to our country; I had warned him that Risquet was getting on and his health was not great. A few days later what I had feared occurred. Risquet deteriorated and died. When Piero arrived there was nothing to do except make promises, but I had already received information related to the weapons and the assistance that racist South Africa had received from Reagan and Israel.”

‘I do not know what Obama would have to say about this story now. I am unaware as to what he did or did not know, although it is very unlikely that he knew absolutely nothing. My modest suggestion is that he gives it thought and does not attempt now to elaborate theories on Cuban policy.’

“T’here is an important issue:’

‘Obama made a speech in which he uses the most sweetened words to express: “It is time, now, to forget the past, leave the past behind, let us look to the future together, a future of hope. And it won’t be easy, there will be challenges and we must give it time; but my stay here gives me more hope in what we can do together as friends, as family, as neighbors, together.”’

‘I suppose all of us were at risk of a heart attack upon hearing these words from the President of the United States. After a ruthless blockade that has lasted almost 60 years, and what about those who have died in the mercenary attacks on Cuban ships and ports, an airliner full of passengers blown up in midair, mercenary invasions, multiple acts of violence and coercion?’

‘Nobody should be under the illusion that the people of this dignified and selfless country will renounce the glory, the rights, or the spiritual wealth they have gained with the development of education, science and culture.’

‘I also warn that we are capable of producing the food and material riches we need with the efforts and intelligence of our people. We do not need the empire to give us anything. Our efforts will be legal and peaceful, as this is our commitment to peace.”

Reactions to Fidel’s Commentary

Castro criticizes the U.S. support for the invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and other actions against Cuba. But Obama in his speech mentioned some of these actions and implicitly apologized for them by saying, “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.”

Another assertion by Fidel was the Cuban “Revolution swept away racial discrimination” and Obama failed to recognize that accomplishment. Yes, it is true that Obama did not make such a statement, and instead said that both countries need “to reduce discrimination based on race in our own countries.” Moreover, as a prior post noted, many believe that Cuba still faced problems of racial bias despite the Revolution’s accomplishments on the issue.

Fidel also had a lot to say about Cuba’s involvement in helping the Angolans to combat South African apartheid regime and Obama’s failure to acknowledge those efforts. Yes, Obama did not discuss those issues, but his purpose was not to discuss everything that Cuba has done. Obama, however, did commend Cuba for “the service that thousands of Cuban doctors have delivered for the poor and suffering” around the world, including their work “to save lives and stamp out Ebola in West Africa” while working “side-by-side” with the U.S. health-care workers and military.

More generally Fidel seems upset with Obama’s “sweetened words to leave the past behind” and “to look forward to the future together” and thereby ignore the accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution. But Obama did acknowledge respect for Cuba’s ”sovereignty” and “self-determination” and “system of education that values every boy and girl” as well as “the talent, hard work, and pride of the Cuban people.” Obama also respectfully raised up Cuban artists (Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan), food (ropa vieja), dance (Cha-cha-Cha and Salsa), customs (patriotism, sense of pride, love of family and passion for their children) and religion (Lady of Charity).

Other comments by Fidel, in my opinion, are snipings about “large foreign corporations” obtaining some of the profits from increased tourism in Cuba and about his country’s alleged ability “of producing the food and material riches we need with the efforts and intelligence of our people” and not needing “the empire to give us anything.” Yet increased tourism has exacerbated shortages of food and increased prices for food to the detriment of ordinary Cubans.

Overall Fidel’s commentary sounds like the angry ramblings of an old man who is upset that he apparently is being excluded from important events in his country and that Obama reportedly refused to schedule a meeting with him.

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

[1] Fidel Castro, Brother Obama, Granma (Mar. 28, 2016); Assoc. Press, Fidel Castro to Obama: We Don’t Need Your ‘Presents,’ N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2016);  Reuters, Cuba’s Fidel Castro Slams Obama Following Historic Visit, N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2016). Obama’s speech and the reactions to the speech were subjects of prior posts.

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama’s Eloquent Speech to the Cuban People

On March 22, U,s, President Barack Obama addressed the past and future of U.S.-Cuba relations in a lengthy and eloquent speech at Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater. The in-person audience of 1,000 included Cuban President Raúl Castro and other officials and U.S. officials and business people. By live television, the audience also included the Cuban people. {1]  Below are photographs of the exterior of the Theater and of President Castro and other Cuban officials in a balcony at the Theater for the speech.

Theater exterior

Castro + @ speech

 

 

 

 

Here we will examine the speech itself, and a subsequent post will look at the reactions to the speech in Cuba and the U.S.

Summary of the Speech

Obama recognized that the two countries shared many things, including being colonized by Europeans and helped by slaves from Africa as well as patriotism and pride, love of family and hope for our children.

The last 50 years, however, have caused many disruptions in our countries’ connections. We are like two brothers who have been estranged for years even as we share the same blood.

The December 17, 2014, joint announcement of our two governments seeking restoration of normal relations was prompted by the U.S. recognition that its policies, including the embargo, were not working and needed to change and that the U.S. needed to help the Cuban people. Obama was in Cuba to end the last remnant of the Cold War and to declare that Cuba need not fear the U.S.

Even though the U.S. was not seeking to force change on Cuba, Obama stated that there were important universal rights that were as important for Cubans as they were for U.S. citizens: equality before the law; right to education, food and housing; freedom from arbitrary arrests; rights to practice their religious faith, assemble, organize, protest peacefully, criticize the government and elect their government leaders. Here is a photograph of President Obama giving the speech.

Obama speech

Text of the Speech

Here then is the actual text of his speech with an opening quotation from a poem by Cuba’s revered national poet, Jose Marti, that offered friendship and peace to both his friend and his enemy, “’Cultivo una rosa blanca’ [I plant a white rose]. Today, as the President of the United States of America, I offer the Cuban people el saludo de paz [the greeting of peace].”

“Havana is only 90 miles from Florida, but to get here we had to travel a great distance — over barriers of history and ideology; barriers of pain and separation.  The blue waters beneath Air Force One once carried American battleships to this island — to liberate, but also to exert control over Cuba.  Those waters also carried generations of Cuban revolutionaries to the United States, where they built support for their cause.  And that short distance has been crossed by hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles — on planes and makeshift rafts — who came to America in pursuit of freedom and opportunity, sometimes leaving behind everything they owned and every person that they loved.”

“Like so many people in both of our countries, my lifetime has spanned a time of isolation between us.  The Cuban Revolution took place the same year that my father came to the United States from Kenya.  The Bay of Pigs took place the year that I was born. The next year, the entire world held its breath, watching our two countries, as humanity came as close as we ever have to the horror of nuclear war.  As the decades rolled by, our governments settled into a seemingly endless confrontation, fighting battles through proxies.  In a world that remade itself time and again, one constant was the conflict between the United States and Cuba.”

“I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.”

“I want to be clear:  The differences between our governments over these many years are real and they are important.  I’m sure President Castro would say the same thing — I know, because I’ve heard him address those differences at length.  But before I discuss those issues, we also need to recognize how much we share.  Because in many ways, the United States and Cuba are like two brothers who’ve been estranged for many years, even as we share the same blood.”

“We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans.  Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa.  Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave-owners.  We’ve welcomed both immigrants who came a great distance to start new lives in the Americas.”

“Over the years, our cultures have blended together. Dr. Carlos Finlay’s work in Cuba paved the way for generations of doctors, including Walter Reed, who drew on Dr. Finlay’s work to help combat Yellow Fever.  Just as Marti wrote some of his most famous words in New York, Ernest Hemingway made a home in Cuba, and found inspiration in the waters of these shores.  We share a national past-time — La Pelota [baseball]– and later today our players will compete on the same Havana field that Jackie Robinson played on before he made his Major League debut. And it’s said that our greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali, once paid tribute to a Cuban that he could never fight — saying that he would only be able to reach a draw with the great Cuban, Teofilo Stevenson.”

“So even as our governments became adversaries, our people continued to share these common passions, particularly as so many Cubans came to America.  In Miami or Havana, you can find places to dance the Cha-Cha-Cha or the Salsa, and eat ropa vieja [shredded pork or beef].  People in both of our countries have sung along with Celia Cruz or Gloria Estefan, and now listen to reggaeton or Pitbull. Millions of our people share a common religion — a faith that I paid tribute to at the Shrine of our Lady of Charity in Miami, a peace that Cubans find in La Cachita.”

“For all of our differences, the Cuban and American people share common values in their own lives.  A sense of patriotism and a sense of pride — a lot of pride.  A profound love of family.  A passion for our children, a commitment to their education.  And that’s why I believe our grandchildren will look back on this period of isolation as an aberration, as just one chapter in a longer story of family and of friendship.”

“But we cannot, and should not, ignore the very real differences that we have — about how we organize our governments, our economies, and our societies.  Cuba has a one-party system; the United States is a multi-party democracy.  Cuba has a socialist economic model; the United States is an open market.  Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state; the United States is founded upon the rights of the individual.”

“Despite these differences, on December 17th 2014, President Castro and I announced that the United States and Cuba would begin a process to normalize relations between our countries. Since then, we have established diplomatic relations and opened embassies.  We’ve begun initiatives to cooperate on health and agriculture, education and law enforcement.  We’ve reached agreements to restore direct flights and mail service.  We’ve expanded commercial ties, and increased the capacity of Americans to travel and do business in Cuba.”

“And these changes have been welcomed, even though there are still opponents to these policies.  But still, many people on both sides of this debate have asked:  Why now?  Why now?”

“There is one simple answer:  What the United States was doing was not working.  We have to have the courage to acknowledge that truth.  A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century.  The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them.  And I’ve always believed in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called ‘the fierce urgency of now’ — we should not fear change, we should embrace it.”

“That leads me to a bigger and more important reason for these changes:  Creo en el pueblo Cubano.  I believe in the Cuban people. This is not just a policy of normalizing relations with the Cuban government.  The United States of America is normalizing relations with the Cuban people.”

“And today, I want to share with you my vision of what our future can be.  I want the Cuban people — especially the young people — to understand why I believe that you should look to the future with hope; not the false promise which insists that things are better than they really are, or the blind optimism that says all your problems can go away tomorrow.  Hope that is rooted in the future that you can choose and that you can shape, and that you can build for your country.”

“I’m hopeful because I believe that the Cuban people are as innovative as any people in the world.”

“In a global economy, powered by ideas and information, a country’s greatest asset is its people.  In the United States, we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build: it’s called Miami.  Here in Havana, we see that same talent in cuentapropistas [self-employed workers], cooperatives and old cars that still run.  El Cubano inventa del aire. [Cubans invented the air.]”

“Cuba has an extraordinary resource — a system of education which values every boy and every girl. And in recent years, the Cuban government has begun to open up to the world, and to open up more space for that talent to thrive.  In just a few years, we’ve seen how cuentapropistas  can succeed while sustaining a distinctly Cuban spirit.  Being self-employed is not about becoming more like America, it’s about being yourself.”

“Look at Sandra Lidice Aldama, who chose to start a small business.  Cubans, she said, can ‘innovate and adapt without losing our identity…our secret is in not copying or imitating but simply being ourselves.’”

“Look at Papito Valladeres, a barber, whose success allowed him to improve conditions in his neighborhood.  ‘I realize I’m not going to solve all of the world’s problems,’ he said.  ‘But if I can solve problems in the little piece of the world where I live, it can ripple across Havana.’”

“That’s where hope begins — with the ability to earn your own living, and to build something you can be proud of.  That’s why our policies focus on supporting Cubans, instead of hurting them.  That’s why we got rid of limits on remittances — so ordinary Cubans have more resources.  That’s why we’re encouraging travel — which will build bridges between our people, and bring more revenue to those Cuban small businesses. That’s why we’ve opened up space for commerce and exchanges — so that Americans and Cubans can work together to find cures for diseases, and create jobs, and open the door to more opportunity for the Cuban people.”

“As President of the United States, I’ve called on our Congress to lift the embargo. It is an outdated burden on the Cuban people.  It’s a burden on the Americans who want to work and do business or invest here in Cuba.  It’s time to lift the embargo.  But even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba. It should be easier to open a business here in Cuba.  A worker should be able to get a job directly with companies who invest here in Cuba.  Two currencies shouldn’t separate the type of salaries that Cubans can earn.  The Internet should be available across the island, so that Cubans can connect to the wider world and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.”

“There’s no limitation from the United States on the ability of Cuba to take these steps.  It’s up to you.  And I can tell you as a friend that sustainable prosperity in the 21st century depends upon education, health care, and environmental protection.  But it also depends on the free and open exchange of ideas.  If you can’t access information online, if you cannot be exposed to different points of view, you will not reach your full potential.  And over time, the youth will lose hope.”

“I know these issues are sensitive, especially coming from an American President.  Before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit, ignored poverty, enabled corruption. And since 1959, we’ve been shadow-boxers in this battle of geopolitics and personalities. I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it.”

“I’ve made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity, nor the intention to impose change on Cuba.  What changes come will depend upon the Cuban people.  We will not impose our political or economic system on you.  We recognize that every country, every people, must chart its own course and shape its own model.  But having removed the shadow of history from our relationship, I must speak honestly about the things that I believe — the things that we, as Americans, believe.  As Marti said, ‘Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.’”

“So let me tell you what I believe.  I can’t force you to agree, but you should know what I think.  I believe that every person should be equal under the law. Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads. I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights. I believe that every person should have the freedom to practice their faith peacefully and publicly. And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections.”

“Not everybody agrees with me on this.  Not everybody agrees with the American people on this.  But I believe those human rights are universal. I believe they are the rights of the American people, the Cuban people, and people around the world.”

“Now, there’s no secret that our governments disagree on many of these issues.  I’ve had frank conversations with President Castro.  For many years, he has pointed out the flaws in the American system — economic inequality; the death penalty; racial discrimination; wars abroad.  That’s just a sample.  He has a much longer list. But here’s what the Cuban people need to understand:  I welcome this open debate and dialogue. It’s good.  It’s healthy.  I’m not afraid of it.”

“We do have too much money in American politics.  But, in America, it’s still possible for somebody like me — a child who was raised by a single mom, a child of mixed race who did not have a lot of money — to pursue and achieve the highest office in the land.  That’s what’s possible in America.”

“We do have challenges with racial bias — in our communities, in our criminal justice system, in our society — the legacy of slavery and segregation.  But the fact that we have open debates within America’s own democracy is what allows us to get better.  In 1959, the year that my father moved to America, it was illegal for him to marry my mother, who was white, in many American states.  When I first started school, we were still struggling to desegregate schools across the American South.  But people organized; they protested; they debated these issues; they challenged government officials.  And because of those protests, and because of those debates, and because of popular mobilization, I’m able to stand here today as an African-American and as President of the United States.  That was because of the freedoms that were afforded in the United States that we were able to bring about change.”

“I’m not saying this is easy. There’s still enormous problems in our society.  But democracy is the way that we solve them.  That’s how we got health care for more of our people.  That’s how we made enormous gains in women’s rights and gay rights.  That’s how we address the inequality that concentrates so much wealth at the top of our society.  Because workers can organize and ordinary people have a voice, American democracy has given our people the opportunity to pursue their dreams and enjoy a high standard of living.”

“Now, there are still some tough fights.  It isn’t always pretty, the process of democracy.   It’s often frustrating.  You can see that in the election going on back home.  But just stop and consider this fact about the American campaign that’s taking place right now.  You had two Cuban Americans in the Republican Party, running against the legacy of a black man who is President, while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the Democratic nominee who will either be a woman or a Democratic Socialist. Who would have believed that back in 1959?  That’s a measure of our progress as a democracy.”

“So here’s my message to the Cuban government and the Cuban people:  The ideals that are the starting point for every revolution — America’s revolution, Cuba’s revolution, the liberation movements around the world — those ideals find their truest expression, I believe, in democracy.  Not because American democracy is perfect, but precisely because we’re not.  And we — like every country — need the space that democracy gives us to change.  It gives individuals the capacity to be catalysts to think in new ways, and to reimagine how our society should be, and to make them better.”

“There’s already an evolution taking place inside of Cuba, a generational change.  Many suggested that I come here and ask the people of Cuba to tear something down — but I’m appealing to the young people of Cuba who will lift something up, build something new.  El futuro  de Cuba tiene que estar en las manos del pueblo Cubano. [The future of Cuba must be in the hands of the Cuban people.]”

English “And to President Castro — who I appreciate being here today — I want you to know, I believe my visit here demonstrates you do not need to fear a threat from the United States.  And given your commitment to Cuba’s sovereignty and self-determination, I am also confident that you need not fear the different voices of the Cuban people — and their capacity to speak, and assemble, and vote for their leaders.  In fact, I’m hopeful for the future because I trust that the Cuban people will make the right decisions.”

“And as you do, I’m also confident that Cuba can continue to play an important role in the hemisphere and around the globe — and my hope is, is that you can do so as a partner with the United States.”

“We’ve played very different roles in the world.  But no one should deny the service that thousands of Cuban doctors have delivered for the poor and suffering. Last year, American health care workers — and the U.S. military — worked side-by-side with Cubans to save lives and stamp out Ebola in West Africa.  I believe that we should continue that kind of cooperation in other countries.”

“We’ve been on the different side of so many conflicts in the Americas.  But today, Americans and Cubans are sitting together at the negotiating table, and we are helping the Colombian people resolve a civil war that’s dragged on for decades. That kind of cooperation is good for everybody.  It gives everyone in this hemisphere hope.”

“We took different journeys to our support for the people of South Africa in ending apartheid.  But President Castro and I could both be there in Johannesburg to pay tribute to the legacy of the great Nelson Mandela. And in examining his life and his words, I’m sure we both realize we have more work to do to promote equality in our own countries — to reduce discrimination based on race in our own countries.  And in Cuba, we want our engagement to help lift up the Cubans who are of African descent, who’ve proven that there’s nothing they cannot achieve when given the chance.”

“We’ve been a part of different blocs of nations in the hemisphere, and we will continue to have profound differences about how to promote peace, security, opportunity, and human rights.  But as we normalize our relations, I believe it can help foster a greater sense of unity in the Americas — todos somos Americanos [we are all Americans].”

“From the beginning of my time in office, I’ve urged the people of the Americas to leave behind the ideological battles of the past.  We are in a new era.  I know that many of the issues that I’ve talked about lack the drama of the past.  And I know that part of Cuba’s identity is its pride in being a small island nation that could stand up for its rights, and shake the world. But I also know that Cuba will always stand out because of the talent, hard work, and pride of the Cuban people.  That’s your strength. Cuba doesn’t have to be defined by being against the United States, any more than the United States should be defined by being against Cuba.  I’m hopeful for the future because of the reconciliation that’s taking place among the Cuban people.”

“I know that for some Cubans on the island, there may be a sense that those who left somehow supported the old order in Cuba.  I’m sure there’s a narrative that lingers here which suggests that Cuban exiles ignored the problems of pre-Revolutionary Cuba, and rejected the struggle to build a new future.  But I can tell you today that so many Cuban exiles carry a memory of painful — and sometimes violent — separation.  They love Cuba.  A part of them still considers this their true home. That’s why their passion is so strong.  That’s why their heartache is so great.  And for the Cuban-American community that I’ve come to know and respect, this is not just about politics. This is about family — the memory of a home that was lost; the desire to rebuild a broken bond; the hope for a better future the hope for return and reconciliation.”

“For all of the politics, people are people, and Cubans are Cubans.  And I’ve come here — I’ve traveled this distance — on a bridge that was built by Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.  I first got to know the talent and passion of the Cuban people in America.  And I know how they have suffered more than the pain of exile — they also know what it’s like to be an outsider, and to struggle, and to work harder to make sure their children can reach higher in America.”

“So the reconciliation of the Cuban people — the children and grandchildren of revolution, and the children and grandchildren of exile — that is fundamental to Cuba’s future.”

“You see it in Gloria Gonzalez, who traveled here in 2013 for the first time after 61 years of separation, and was met by her sister, Llorca.  ‘You recognized me, but I didn’t recognize you,’ Gloria said after she embraced her sibling.  Imagine that, after 61 years.”

“You see it in Melinda Lopez, who came to her family’s old home.  And as she was walking the streets, an elderly woman recognized her as her mother’s daughter, and began to cry.  She took her into her home and showed her a pile of photos that included Melinda’s baby picture, which her mother had sent 50 years ago.  Melinda later said, ‘So many of us are now getting so much back.’”

“You see it in Cristian Miguel Soler, a young man who became the first of his family to travel here after 50 years.  And meeting relatives for the first time, he said, ‘I realized that family is family no matter the distance between us.’”

“Sometimes the most important changes start in small places. The tides of history can leave people in conflict and exile and poverty.  It takes time for those circumstances to change.  But the recognition of a common humanity, the reconciliation of people bound by blood and a belief in one another — that’s where progress begins.  Understanding, and listening, and forgiveness. And if the Cuban people face the future together, it will be more likely that the young people of today will be able to live with dignity and achieve their dreams right here in Cuba.”

“The history of the United States and Cuba encompass revolution and conflict; struggle and sacrifice; retribution and, now, reconciliation.  It is time, now, for us to leave the past behind.  It is time for us to look forward to the future together — un future de esperanza [a future of hope].  And it won’t be easy, and there will be setbacks.  It will take time.  But my time here in Cuba renews my hope and my confidence in what the Cuban people will do.  We can make this journey as friends, and as neighbors, and as family — together.  Si se puede.  Muchas gracias. [Yes we can. Many thanks.]”

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

[1] White House, Remarks by President Obama to the People of Cuba (March 22, 2016); Agence France-Press, President’s Full Speech in Cuba, N.Y. times (Mar. 22, 2016) (complete video of speech); Davis, Obama in Havana Speech, Says Cuba Has Nothing To Fear from U.S., N.Y. Times (Mar. 22, 2016); Reuters, Obama Challenges Communist-Led Cuba With Call for Democracy, N.Y. Times (Mar. 22, 2016); Assoc. Press, In Cuba, Obama Calls for Burying ‘Last Remnant of Cold War,’ N.Y. Times (Mar. 22, 2016); Eliperin & DeYoung, Obama addresses the Cuban nation: “It is time now for us to leave the past behind,’ Wash. Post (Mar. 22, 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resolving U.S. and Cuba Damage Claims

On December 8, the U.S. and Cuba held discussions in Havana about the two countries’ damage claims: (1) U.S. claims to recover damages for U.S. property interests that were expropriated by the Cuban government at the start of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.; (2) U.S. courts’ money judgments against Cuba; (3) Cuba’s claims for alleged damages resulting from the U.S. embargo of Cuba; and (4) Cuba’s alleged damage claims for Cubans personal injuries and deaths from U.S. hostile actions.

This post will briefly examine those claims, the recent U.S.-Cuba discussions on the subject and an analysis of the issues by Washington, D.C.’s Brookings Institution.

Summary of the Claims

  1. Cuba’s Expropriation of U.S. Property[1]

Some 5,913 U.S. corporations and individuals have $1.9 billion worth of claims (without interest) for factories, farms, homes and other assets that were nationalized in Cuba after Fidel Castro’s rebels came to power in 1959. These claims have been registered and validated by the U.S. Justice Department’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. They are now worth roughly $8 billion when including 6.0 percent annual interest. These claims (without interest) have been categorized by the Brookings Institution’s report discussed below:

Claimants Claims Amount ($USD)
Corporate 899 1,677,280,771
Individual 5,014 229,199,112
TOTAL 5,913 1,906,479,883

 

Nevertheless, the Brookings’ report identifies these potential issues with respect to the claims validated by the U.S. Commission: (1) Whether to recognize the Commission rulings as a legitimate procedure in which cuba did not participate; (2) Whether to accept or challenge its valuations of lost properties; (3)  Whether Cuba should recognize accumulated interest as awarded by the Commission on its certified claims or whether to negotiate an alternative benchmark interest rate or other formula for partial payments.

2. U.S. Court Judgments Against Cuba[2]

In U.S. courts various plaintiffs have sued the Cuban Government, which did not appear in the cases. As a result the courts entered default judgments against Cuba, now totaling $2 billion.

3. U.S. Embargo of Cuba[3]

In a 2015 report to the United Nations General Assembly, Cuba asserted that the accumulated economic damages from the U.S. economic sanctions had reached $121 billion. The annual report offers some estimates on sectoral damages but does not discuss methodology. An earlier 1992 Cuban statement detailed these estimated cumulative losses among others:: (a) $3.8 billion for losses in the tourist industry; (b) $400 million for losses in the nickel industry; (c) $375 million for the higher costs of freighters; (d) $200 million for the purchase of sugarcane crop equipment to substitute for U.S.-manufactured equipment; and (e) $120 million for the substitution of electric industry equipment

4. Cubans Killed or Injured by Alleged U.S. Hostilities[4]

The Cuban government claims that U.S. “acts of terrorism against Cuba have caused 3,478 deaths and 2,099 disabling injuries.” Examples of such alleged acts include (a) U.S.-supported hostilities in Cuba resulting in 549 deaths between 1959-1965; (b) the Bay of Pigs invasion resulting in 176 deaths and over 300 wounded of whom 50 were left incapacitated; (c) the explosion of the French vessel La Coubre on March 4, 1960 in Havana Harbor, resulting in 101 deaths including some French sailors; (d) the terrorist bombing of Cuban Airlines Flight 455 in 1976 killing all 73 persons on board including 57 Cubans; (e) the September 11, 1980 assassination of Cuban diplomat Félix García Rodriguez in New York City; (f) Numerous aggressions from the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo resulting in the deaths of Cuban citizens; and (g) suspicions that the U.S. employed biological warfare to spread fatal dengue fever in Cuba.

Recent U.S.-Cuba Discussions[5]

Immediately before the December 8 discussions, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said the U.S. expected this to be “a first step in what we expect to be a long and complex process, but the United States views the resolution of outstanding claims as a top priority for normalization.”

Afterwards a U.S official said that reaching a settlement of these claims was “a top priority” for the U.S. and that these talks were “fruitful” and would continue in 2016. This official also said that the U.S. had provided information on the additional $2 billion in judgments awarded to plaintiffs who had sued the Cuban government in U.S. courts, proceedings that ­Havana does not recognize.

Other than the above sketchy summary, very little has publicly emerged about the specifics of the talks. It sounds as if the discussions were akin to the pretrial discovery process in U.S. civil lawsuits when parties learn about each other’s evidence and arguments.

A Cuba legal expert, Pedro Freyre, said, “It’s the first time the two countries are going back to look at this history and try to sort out a system for fixing it.” The Cubans, he added, were “very tough, very clever” in such negotiations.

Brookings Institution’s Analysis[6]

Richard Feinberg
Richard Feinberg

On the same day as the U.S.-Cuba discussions (December 8), the Brookings Institution released a cogent report on the subject by Richard Feinberg, a nonresident senior fellow in Brookings’ Latin American Initiative. [7]

Introducing the report at a press conference, Feinberg said, “The convening of these talks in Havana [is] a major milestone in the process of gradual full normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, especially important with regard to commercial relations. Property ownership and claims are at the strategic heart of the Cuban revolution, dating from the early 1960s and also a major cause, perhaps the major cause, of the conflict between the United States and the Cuban revolution. The seizure of U.S. properties was the proximate cause of the imposition of U.S. economic sanctions back in the early 1960s.” These talks are of “strategic importance in the bilateral relationship.”

Feinberg also emphasized that both the U.S. and Cuba “agree on the principle of compensation” for expropriation of property.” Indeed, he said, to do so is in Cuba’s national interest. It “wants to demonstrate [that] it is not a rogue nation . . . [that] it is a nation of laws” and it “wants to remove major irritants to its international diplomacy and commercial relations” and “to attract international investment.”

Another point made by Feinberg was Cuba was not so poor that it could not pay any compensation, especially if the payments were spread out over time, as seems likely.

In addition to setting forth information about the above claims, the report examined the following ways of resolving these claims.

  1. The Grand Bargain

The Report asserts that “a much more promising alternative approach” is “to take advantage of the very size and complexity of the conflicting claims and to make their resolution the centerpiece of a grand bargain that would resolve some of the other remaining points of tension between the two nations, and embrace an ambitious, forward-looking development strategy for Cuba.”

In such a grand bargain, “the settlement of U.S. claims could be wrapped in a package of economic opportunities for Cuba. Importantly, the United States could further relax its economic sanctions (amending or repealing Helms-Burton), providing more trade and investment opportunities – and the capacity for Cuba to earn the foreign exchange needed to service debt obligations. In turn, Cuba will have to accelerate and deepen its economic reforms, to offer a more attractive business environment for investors and exporters. Politically, the Cuban government could present a significant softening of the U.S. embargo as a victory, offsetting any concessions made in the claims negotiations. A comprehensive package might also be more attractive to the U.S. Congress; formal Congressional consent would enhance the measures’ legitimacy and durability and help to close off any court challenges, should some claimants be unsatisfied with the final settlement.”

“The [U.S.] strategic goals in a massive claims resolution process must be political: to heal the deep wounds of past conflicts, to lay foundations for peaceful coexistence and the non-violent resolution of disputes, to avoid jeopardizing fiscal balances and crippling debt burdens, to build investor confidence and international reputation, and to help render the Cuban economy more open and competitive. . . . In the interests of both Cuba and the United States, the twentieth-century trauma of massive property seizures should be transformed into a twenty-first century economic development opportunity.”

“Wrapping a claims settlement within a more sweeping diplomatic package could have large advantages. A robust accord could help overcome long-simmering bilateral animosities and reconcile the fractured Cuban family. Potentially embarrassing ‘concessions’ by either party could be masked by larger victories on more weighty or emotive issues. What to some might appear the unseemly materialism or inequity of property claims would be subsumed within a higher-toned humanitarian achievement. Having turned the page on a half-century long era of conflict, Cuban society could begin in earnest on a new path toward social peace and shared prosperity. The claims settlement, which would bolster investor confidence, could also be linked to a reformed economic development model for Cuba actively supported by the international community.”

2. Lump-Sum Settlement

Separate resolution of the damage claims could be done in a lump-sum settlement, whereby “the two governments negotiate a total amount of financial compensation that is transferred in a lump-sum or global indemnity to the plaintiff government which in turn assumes the responsibility to distribute the transferred monies among its national claimants.” Such a settlement would provide “greater efficiency in coping with large numbers of claims; enhanced consistency in the administration and adjudication of claims; promoting fairness among claimants in setting criteria for evaluating claims and distributing awards; and upholding professionalism and integrity in the national claims commission.” In addition, sometimes lump-sum arrangements “allow the two governments to address other matters, such as broader investment and trade relations.”

3. Two-Tier Resolution

Another way for separate resolution of the U.S. expropriation damage claims is what Brookings calls a two-tier solution, “whereby corporate claimants can choose either to seek creative bargains, or join individual claimants in a lump-sum settlement.”

The 5,014 individual claims validated by the U.S. Commission total about $229 million (without interest). Of these, only 39 amount to over $1 million each while only four were valued at over $5 million. A lump-sum cash settlement of these claims could be shared share equitably by all or with caps on those over a certain figure, such as $ 1 million.

The 899 corporate claims are heavily concentrated: the top 10 corporate claims are valued at nearly $1 billion while the top 50 at $1.5 billion. “The corporate claimants could be given the opportunity to be included in a lump-sum settlement—albeit possibly facing an equity hair-cut to limit the burden on Cuba and to ensure a minimum payment to the smaller claimants—or to ‘opt out’ of the general settlement and instead seek alternative remedies” in Cuba, such as a voucher for new investment; a right to operate a new business; a final project authorization for a new venture; a preferred acquisition right for a venture; Cuba sovereign bonds; and restoration of properties.

Conclusion

Although I hope that the Brookings’s “grand bargain” or more limited negotiated solution is reached, a Miami Herald article emphasizes the difficulties in reaching any settlement. First, some of the claims that were validated by the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission could be stricken from the list that the U.S. may negotiate if the claims have not always been owned by a U.S. citizen or business. Second, the U.S. government is not authorized to negotiate the previously mentioned U.S. courts’ default judgments against Cuba. As a result, U.S. attorneys for the plaintiffs in those cases could seek to seize any assets in the U.S. of the Cuban government such as a Cuban plane or ship to satisfy the outstanding judgments. Third, Cuba also has to fear that any payment of U.S. claimants for expropriated property will invite demands for similar payments by Cuban exiles around the world and by Spanish claimants after some Spanish courts have ruled that Spain’s 1986 settlement of such claims with Cuba is not binding on at least some Spanish claimants. Fourth, the time to complete such a settlement at the end of the Obama Administration is rapidly shrinking, and a new administration in January 2017 may not be as willing to do such a deal.[8]

I, therefore, reiterate the solution proposed in a prior post: an agreement by the two countries to submit all of their damage claims against each other for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands under its Arbitration Rules 2012 before a panel of three or five arbitrators.[9]

My experience as a lawyer who handled business disputes in U.S. courts and in international arbitrations leads me to believe that arbitration is the appropriate way to resolve these claims by the two governments. The International Court of Arbitration was established in the late 19thcentury to resolve disputes between governments. It would be a third-party, neutral administrator of the proceedings and the arbitrators who would be selected would also be neutral. Finally it has an existing set of arbitration rules and procedures. Moreover, in the arbitration process, both sides would gain a better understanding of the opponent’s evidence and argument that could lead to a settlement before the arbitrators would be asked to render an award.

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

[1] Brookings, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity (Dec. 2015); Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 6, 2015).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.; U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns U.S. Embargo of Cuba (Oct. 30, 2014).

[4] Brookings, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity (Dec. 2015).

[5] Robles, Cuba and U.S. to Discuss Settling Claims on Property, N.Y. times (Dec. 4, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (Dec. 7, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Release: United States and Cuba Hold Claims Talks in Havana (Dec. 7, 2015); Reuters, U.S., Cuba to Negotiate Billions in Claims Against Each Other, N.Y. Times (Dec. 7, 2015); Assoc. Press, Cuba, US Begins Talks on Confiscated Property, Damages,, N.Y. Times (Dec. 8, 2015); Miroff, In major breakthrough, Cuba and U.S. discuss $1.9 billion in property claims, Wash. Post (Dec. 8, 2015); Schwartz, U.S., Cuba Hold First Talks on Rival Claims, W.S.J. (Dec. 8, 2015); Briefing on compensation held between the governments of Cuba and the United States, Granma (Dec. 9, 2015).

[6] Brookings, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba: Transforming Trauma into Opportunity (Dec. 8, 2015); Feinberg, Reconciling U.S. Property Claims in Cuba (Dec. 2015); Brookings Institution, Cuba Media Roundtable (Dec. 8, 2015).

[7] Brookings is a non-governmental organization that “brings together more than 300 leading experts in government and academia from all over the world who provide the highest quality research, policy recommendations and analysis on a full range of public policy issues.” Feinberg is a professor of international political economy in the School of Global Policy and Strategy (formerly the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies) at the University of California, San Diego. Previously, Feinberg served as special assistant to President Clinton for National Security Affairs and senior director of the National Security Council’s Office of Inter-American Affairs; his other government positions include positions on the policy planning staff of the U.S. Department of State and in the Office of International Affairs in the U.S. Treasury Department.

[8] Torres & Garvin, Claim game: U.S., Cuba try to hash out differences over property, Miami Herald (Dec. 12, 2015).

[9] Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 15, 2015).