Cuba and European Union Draw Closer Together 

On September 9 in Havana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, pledged the EU’s help for development of Cuba’s economy.[1]

At a joint press conference with Cuba Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, Mogherini said, “The EU is Cuba’s top commercial partner and investor, and we have tripled cooperation in the last two years.” She also said the EU would continue to offer financial support for Cuba’s economic reforms that would encourage foreign investment on the island.

She noted that  the two countries already held bilateral talks on topics such as sustainable development and human rights within the framework of the 2017 Political Dialogue and Cooperation pact. She said, “We have also continued the dialogue on the situation in the region and cooperation, on Venezuela in particular.”

There also was discussion of the U.S. intensification of its embargo (blockade) against Cuba, and its extraterritorial effects.

Earlier Mogherini, met with Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel. She was accompanied by the EU Ambassador to Cuba, Alberto Navarro; the Chief of Staff of the EU’s High Representative, Stefano Grassi; and the director for the Americas, Edita Hrda. Diaz-Canel was accompanied by Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla; its General Director of Bilateral Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, Emilio Lozada García; and the Cuban Ambassador to the European Union, Norma Goicochea Estenoz.

Last week the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPAC) and CubaDecide called for national protests on Sunday (September 8) against the conference with the EU, and on Sunday Cuban officials arrested more than 100 people who were planning to hold such a protest to demand a stronger EU stance on Cuba violations of human rights. Another Cuban group, the Christian Democratic Party of Cuba (PDC-Cuba), called on the EU to denounce Cuba’s violations of human rights and democratic freedoms. In addition, almost 400 activists sent a letter to Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs commending its criticisms of Cuba’s human rights abuses.

After Mogherini’s visit to Cuba, two Cuban opposition groups– Independent Trade Union Association of Cuba (ASIC) and the International Group for Corporate Social Responsibility in Cuba (GIRSCC)—leveled denunciations of Mogherini’s statements on the island. They said, “It is outrageous to see this commissioner throwing flattery at the Castro dictatorship – one of the bloodiest and most repressive in the world, which for 60 years has violated, cruelly and systematically, the most elementary and precious rights of its population – at a time when that suffocates with renewed commitment to Cuban democratic dissent.”

Moreover, the two groups said, “We still do not understand, otherwise, how the commissioner, in her repeated trips to Cuba, has never approached the organized political expressions of the democratic opposition, not even a single opponent victim of oppressive actions of the dictatorship.”

These two groups recalled that “coinciding with their arrival in Cuba, State Security forces violently broke into the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), in Santiago de Cuba, arresting 22 of its militants and confiscating all documentary material and solidarity that was in that center.” Moreover, they said that this year “the actions of harassment, trials and arbitrary detentions against independent trade union activists and their families have become even more cruel and systematic, with the aim of suppressing ASIC and arresting its main leaders.”

Conclusion

The increased EU-Cuba economic collaboration is one of the consequences of the U.S. continuing embargo (blockade) of the island and the various Trump Administration’s policies and actions hostile to Cuba. In short, these U.S. policies and actions are also hostile to U.S. economic interests.

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[1] Acosta, Marsh & Osterman, EU stresses support for Cuba even as U.S. hikes sanctions, Reuters (Sept. 9, 2019); Diaz-Canel received Federica Mogherini, Cubadebate (Sept. 9, 2019); Federica Mogherini: the Government of Cuba ‘is a key partner for us,’ Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); Bruno Rodríguez and Mogherini tie loose ends before the Cuba-European Union Council, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); Cuban organizations call on the EU to denounce the omission of Havana’s commitments, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); The EU must demand from Havana the same conduct as the rest of its member states: OCDH, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); More than 30 activists released, ‘some of them very beaten,’ denounces UNPACU, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019);Brussels offers Havana more financing to accompany the ‘update’ of its economy, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 10, 2019); Second Cuba- European Union Joint Council held in Havana, Granma (Sept. 11, 2019); Organizations consider Mogherini’s ‘outrageous’ statements in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 12, 2019).

 

 

Cuba Foreign Minister Denounces U.S. Policies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Is Cuba-North Korea Cooperation Good or Bad for U.S.? 

On November 22-24 North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho was in Havana to meet with Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and President Raúl Castro. Was this a positive or negative development for  the U.S., which has simultaneous strained relationships with both countries?[1]

Background

Since 1960, soon after the Cuban Revolution assumed control of the island’s government, Cuba and North Korea have had close diplomatic relations. It started with a 1960 visit to North Korea by Che Guevara, who praised the North Korean regime as a model for Cuba to follow.

In 1986 Fidel Castro visited North Korea and met with the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and his son and successor, Kim Jong-il (the grandfather and father, respectively, of the current North Korean leader).

In July 2013, a North Korea-flagged vessel was seized by Panamanian authorities carrying suspected missile-system components hidden under 10,000 tons of sugar bags upon its return from Cuba. Cuba claimed the weapons were going to North Korea for repairs and were to be sent back. However, the next year a United Nations panel of experts concluded that the shipment had violated sanctions placed on North Korea, although Cuban entities were not sanctioned in the aftermath despite protests from the U.S.

In 2015, Cuba’s First Vice President and foreseeable successor to Raúl Castro, Miguel Díaz-Canel , was received by Kim Jong-un in the North Korean capital.

In December 2016, a North Korean delegation to the funeral of Cuban leader Fidel Castro emphasized that the two nations should develop their relations “in all spheres” — a comment that was echoed by Raúl Castro, according to state media reports at the time.

This year the Kim regime has been strengthening its ties with Cuba with a view to breaking its diplomatic isolation, before the tightening of sanctions imposed by the international community. In January, Cuban Vice President  Salvador Valdés Mesa  received the number three of the North Korean regime, Choe Ryong-hae. In May the North Korean trade union leader Ju Yong-gil visited  Havana as part of a meeting of the World Federation of Trade Unions and reportedly returned with a message of solidarity from President Raúl Castro.

The Ho-Rodriguez Meeting

Ho’s first meeting in Cuba was with Foreign Minister Rodriguez and below is a photograph of the two men at that meeting. 

Afterwards Cuba’s Foreign Ministry stated that the two officials  had “reviewed the satisfactory status and positive evolution of bilateral relations, which [are] based on the traditional bonds of friendship established by the historical leaders Fidel Castro Ruz and Kim Il Sung and the links that exist between both peoples, parties and governments.” They also asserted their “respect for peoples’ sovereignty, independence and free determination, territorial integrity, the abstention or threat of the use of force, the peaceful settlement of disputes and non-interference in the internal affairs of States.”

They then “strongly rejected the unilateral and arbitrary lists and designations established by the US government which serve as a basis for the implementation of coercive measures which are contrary to international law.” In addition, they “expressed their concern over the escalation of tensions and the increased military activity in the [Korean Peninsula].”

The Ho-Castro Meeting

After the two officials’ meeting, the official note of the meeting released on Cuban official television stated, “In the fraternal meeting both parties noted the historic bonds of friendship that exist between the two nations and discussed international issues of common interest.”

Implications for the U.S.

On November 23 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the possibility that the North Korea-Cuba relationship was a positive development for the U.S. and the world. He said that last year he had discussed with Castro the possibility of working together to defuse global tensions with North Korea. “Can we pass along messages through surprising conduits?” Implicitly answering “yes” to his rhetorical question, Trudeau said. “These are the kinds of things where Canada can, I think, play a role that the United States has chosen not to play, this past year.”

Canada had an interest in seeking such solutions, not just because of regional security but also because the flight path of possible North Korean missiles would pass over its territory, Trudeau said.

An unnamed Asian diplomat had a similar thought: “We often ask the Cubans if they can talk to [the U.S. about North Korea].”

A more negative assessment was offered by an anonymous U.S. State Department official who said that the U.S. had made clear it wanted a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue, but North Korea’s “belligerent and provocative behavior demonstrates it has no interest in working toward a peaceful solution.” Also skeptical was Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former U.S. Treasury Department official, who said,  “A key element of the Trump administration’s sanctions effort is isolating North Korea. The U.S. should warn Cuba about the dangers of a relationship with North Korea.”

Conclusion

Although this blog desperately hopes for a de-escalation of tensions between the U.S. and North Korea and the avoidance of a nuclear war, I doubt that Cuba or Canada via Cuba can make a significant contribution to that objective.

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[1] Reuters, Castro Meets North Korean Minister Amid Hope Cuba Can Defuse Tensions, N.Y. Times (Nov. 24, 2017); The North Korean chancellor brings to Raúl Castro a ‘verbal message’ from Kim Jong-un, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 24, 2017); MacDonald, North Korea relations could be cooled using Cuba, Trudeau says, Global News (Nov. 23, 2017); Reuters, Cuba, North Korea Reject ‘Unilateral and Arbitrary U.S. Demands, N.Y. Times (Nov. 23, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, The Cuban Foreign Minister met with his counterpart from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Nov. 22, 2017); Gomez, Bruno Rodriguez receives Foreign Minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Granma (Nov. 22, 2017); Reuters, North Korean Foreign Minister Heads to Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 20, 2017); Taylor, Amid growing isolation, North Korea falls back on close ties with Cuba, Wash. Post (Nov. 17, 2017).

 

 

Cuba Foreign Minister Accuses U.S. of “Lying” About Diplomats in Havana

On November 2 Cuba’s  Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez accused the U.S. of “lying” about medical problems of U.S. diplomats who were serving at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.[1]

He said, “I can affirm categorically that whoever affirms that there have been attacks, deliberate acts or specific incidents as a cause of these health damages, deliberately lies. These health damages are being used as a pretext of a political nature, with political objectives, to eliminate the progress made and damage the bilateral relationship” between the two countries.

Rodriguez added, “It is high time for the United States to tell the truth or otherwise present evidence. The Cuban government has no responsibility whatsoever for these incidents.”

These comments were made at a press conference at Washington, D.C.’s National Press Club, as shown in the above photograph. He also essentially repeated some of the comments from his November 1 speech at the U.N. General Assembly in favor of the resolution condemning the U.S. embargo of the island. He referred to the recent U.S. reduction of staffing at that Embassy, the expulsion of Cuban diplomats from Washington and the travel warning against Americans traveling to the island. Such actions, he said, were accompanied by repeated disrespectful and offensive pronouncements towards his country by President Trump, “who takes up the hostile rhetoric of the periods of greatest confrontation.”

The same day Rodriguez met with 12 U.S. senators and representatives on Capitol Hill. Although not identifeid in the U.S. or Cuban media, photographs of the meeting show Senators Patrick Leahy (Dem., Vt), Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) and Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), all advocates of U.S.-Cuba normalization.[2]

Now we await the U.S. response to this accusation.

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[1] Bruno Rodriguez: There is no evidence of a sonic attack on US diplomats, CubaDebate (Oct. 3, 2017) (transcript of press conference); Bruno Rodriguez: Relations between Cuba and the US have fallen significantly due to the measures adopted by Trump, CubaDebate (Nov. 2, 2017); Havana says that Washington ‘lies’ about ‘acoustic attacks,’ Diario de Cuba (Nov. 2, 2017); Lugo (Assoc. Press), Cuba official accuses US of lying about sonic attacks, Wash. Post (Nov. 2, 2017); DeYoung, U.S. claims of health attacks on diplomats ‘deliberate lies,’ Cuban official says, Wash. Post (Nov. 2, 2017).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuban Foreign Minister meets with US Members of Congress (Nov. 3, 2017); Cuban Foreign Minister meets with U.S. legislators, Granma (Nov. 3, 2017).

Continued Official Uncertainty Over Cause of Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba     

There has been lots of news over the U.S. diplomats with medical problems from serving in Cuba. But there is still official uncertainty over the cause of those problems and resulting cooler Cuba relations with the U.S. and warmer relations with Russia.

U.S. Trying To Hide the Attacks?[1]

CBS News on October 10 reported that one of the 22 U.S. diplomats who has suffered from purported “sonic attacks” in Cuba had asserted that the U.S. was trying to hide the attacks.

In addition, this individual reportedly told CBS that the attacks had happened at the Embassy itself, their Havana quarters and hotels, that the State Department “pressured” some U.S. embassy officials who had been injured to remain on the island and “waited too long” to withdraw personnel and that the initial treatment by doctors in Havana and at the University of Miami Hospital in the U.S. was “superficial and incomplete.”

The State Department denied these allegations later the same day.[2] Its Spokesperson, Heather Nauert, at a press briefing, said, “We have an ongoing investigation that’s being spearheaded out of the [U.S.] with our best investigators on that, so they continue to move ahead with that investigation. We still don’t know who is responsible and we still don’t know what is responsible for the injuries of our American staff.” (Emphasis added.)

Pressed by other reporters about the above comments by one of the victims and by the Department’s recent identification of only two Havana hotels where some of the attacks occurred, Nauert said the following:

  • “I was just speaking with one of our colleagues who served down there in Cuba and is recently back here in the [U.S.]. And I asked this person that very question: ‘How do you feel that we responded?’ And I’ve asked numerous of my colleagues that very question. . . . [W]e all care deeply about how our folks are doing down there. And I asked the question, ‘Do you feel supported by us? Do you feel that we were quick enough to respond?’ And the answer I got back was ‘yes.’ . . . it took a while to put this together, because the symptoms were so different.”
  • “But this person said to me once we figured out a pattern, . . . the State Department was extremely responsive. This person said to me that they . . . never felt the pressure to stay in Cuba, although they wanted to make it clear that they wanted to serve down there. These folks love what they’re doing, they feel a real dedication to . . .our mission down there in Cuba, the activities that they were involved with on behalf of the U.S. Government with local Cubans, and they were encouraged by the State Department to come forward, please get tested if you feel like you’ve had some sort of symptoms or something.”
  • “I don’t have the actual timeline in front of me that lays out when attacks took place at different locations, and I’m not even sure that that is something that we’re making public. But once we started to figure out what this was all about and started to investigate and realized that we were not able to protect our people, that’s when the Secretary made [the decision to reduce U.S. personnel at the Embassy in Havana].”

U.S. Government Statements About the Attacks and Relations with Cuba

On October 12 White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, provided a very unusual press briefing. Unusual because the chief of staff rarely, if ever, provides such a briefing. The apparent major reason for the briefing was to provide a platform for him to deny that he was quitting or being fired as chief of staff. In addition, in response to a reporter’s question, Kelly stated, “We believe that the Cuban government could stop the attacks on our diplomats.”  But he provided no bases for that belief and was not challenged with additional questions by the journalists.[3] (Emphases added.)

Later that same day Kelly’s comment was interpreted (or qualified) by the State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, who said, “General Kelly, when he said we believe that they can stop the attacks, I think what he was referring to was, one, we have the Vienna Convention [on Diplomatic Relations]. And under the Vienna Convention, . . . the Government of Cuba, has a responsibility to ensure the safety of our diplomatic staff. That didn’t happen. But there’s also another well-known fact, and that is that in a small country like Cuba, where the government is going to know a lot of things that take place within its borders, they may have more information than we are aware of right now.”[4] (Emphases added.)

The next day, October 13, President Trump addressed the 2017 Values Voter Summit.  It included the following comment: “We’re confronting rogue regimes from Iran to North Korea and we are challenging the communist dictatorship of Cuba and the socialist oppression of Venezuela. And we will not lift the sanctions on these repressive regimes until they restore political and religious freedom for their people.”[5] (Emphases added.)

Two days earlier (October 11) Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech at a National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. in which he referred to meeting people from the Cuban communities here in the U.S., and had seen “the spirit of the Cuban exile community in this country firsthand.” On that same day, the Vice President continued. “President Trump announced a new policy to ensure that U.S. dollars will no longer prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the Cuban people. Under this administration, it will always be “Que viva Cuba libre![6] (Emphases added.)

Sound Recording[7]

The Associated Press obtained an audio recording of what some of the U.S. personnel in Cuba heard.  Says the AP, it “sounds sort of like a mass of crickets. A high-pitched whine, but from what? It seems to undulate, even writhe. Listen closely: There are multiple, distinct tones that sound to some like they’re colliding in a nails-on-the-chalkboard effect.”  The AP adds that it has “reviewed several recordings from Havana taken under different circumstances, and all have variations of the same high-pitched sound.”

Similar Problems at U.S. Embassy in Moscow, 1953-1976[8]

The BBC reports that in May 1953 U.S. officials at the Moscow embassy detected a microwave frequency that oscillated above the upper floors at certain times, sometimes up to eight hours a day, and that autumn some embassy workers felt inexplicably ill. At first it was dizziness, palpitations, headaches, blood pressure too high or too low. But no one understood what was happening.

In 1962, those who were still there or even those who had already left had more severe symptoms: sudden cataracts, alterations in blood tests or chromosomes. In 1965 the U.S. began what was known as the “Moscow Viral Study,” a multimillion-dollar operation in which scientists apparently looked for the potential exposure of workers to an unknown strain of a mysterious and potent virus. The eventual conclusion was the Soviets were “bombing” the U.S. embassy with very low-level microwaves, which the U.S. called the “S ENAL Moscow.” This persisted until April 1976.

Cubans Doubt[9]

From Cuba, the Associated Press reports that “the common reaction in Havana is mocking disbelief” about the attacks.

The same tone was struck by Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first vice president who is widely expected to succeed Raul Castro when he steps down as president in February. He said, “A few spokespeople and media outlets have lent themselves to divulging bizarre nonsense without the slightest evidence, with the perverse intention of discrediting Cuba’s impeccable behavior.”

Mass Hysteria?[10]

Journalists from the Guardian newspaper in London reported that “senior neurologists” say that ”no proper diagnosis is possible without more information and access to the 22 US victims,” but speculate that the diplomats’ ailments could have been caused by “mass hysteria.”

Cuba-Russia Relations[11]

According to the Miami Herald, “after the election of President Donald Trump, the pace of [Cuba’s] bilateral contact with Russia has been frantic,” even more so after the eruption of U.S.-Cuba relations associated with the medical problems of U.S. diplomats. Here are such examples:

  • Just days before Foreign Minister Rodriguez’ September 26 meeting with Secretary of State Tillerson at the State Department, the Minister met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly gathering. The conversation was “confidential,” according to a press release issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
  • On July 26 Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal, the main negotiator with the U.S., went to Moscow and met with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
  • Cuba’s ambassador to Russia has met with Ryabkov at least five times so far, this year.
  • Last December, just after the election of Mr. Trump, Russia and Cuba signed an agreement to modernize the Cuban army, and this year Russian officials — including military personnel — have made frequent visits to Havana.
  • In March, the Russian company Rosneft signed an agreement to ship 250,000 tons of crude oil and diesel to offset the decline in Venezuelan oil shipments to Cuba.
  • Rosneft also has discussed other joint projects with Cuba for oil extraction and the possibility of modernizing the Cienfuegos refinery, operated jointly by Cuba’s CUPET and Venezuela’s PDVSA.
  • In April, Russia offered to fund $1.5 million in U.N. projects in Cuba for hurricane recovery and later pledged to support recovery efforts following damage caused by Irma.
  • In September, Cuban Vice President and Minister of Economy Ricardo Cabrisas signed a package of agreements with Russia in the energy, rail transport and elevator-supply sectors.
  • Recently, Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, which has an office in Washington, and the Russian news agency Sputnik signed an official cooperation agreement.

These developments are no surprise to Richard Feinberg, an expert at Brookings Institution and a former U.S. policymaker for Latin America during Bill Clinton’s administration. He says, “[Vladimir] Putin’s message is not difficult to understand. [He] longs to regain the past imperial glory and relations with Cuba follow that same pattern.” Feinberg added, “From the point of view of the Cubans, they are looking to diversify their relationships. As closer economic relations with the U.S. do not seem likely for at least the next few years, they are looking for alternative allies, especially from countries with strong states like Russia and China that can offer favorable payment terms, something very welcome in an economy with poor international credit standards.”

Conclusion

In the above and the many other reports about the medical problems affecting some U.S. personnel serving in Cuba, I find it astounding that there still is official uncertainty about the cause or causes of the medical problems.

It also is astounding that no journalist or other commentator has publicly asked whether the U.S. has investigated whether the problems were caused by a secret and perhaps malfunctioning U.S. program or device and if so, to provide details. Such a possibility would help explain the delay in the U.S. public announcement of this set of medical problems and the apparent U.S. reluctance to share details of its investigation with Cuban investigators, all as discussed in previous posts to this blog. Moreover, this possibility would render various U.S. reactions—reducing the U.S. personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats and the latest U.S. travel warning—as cover ups and as excuses for additional tightening of U.S. screws on Cuba.

Moreover, Trump’s hostile rhetoric and actions regarding Cuba, which are unjustified in and of themselves, have adverse effects on other important U.S. interests, including the prevention of increasing Russian influence in Latin America.

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[1] Cuba victim tells CBS News “complaints were ignored,” CBS News (Oct. 10, 2017); ‘Washington was trying to hide the acoustic attacks,’ says one of the victims, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 10, 2017).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing—October 10, 2017.

[3]  White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Chief of Staff General John Kelly   (Oct. 12, 2017); Assoc. Press, White House Says Cuba Could Stop Attacks on Americans, N.Y. Times (Oct. 12, 2017).

[4] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-October 12, 2017.

[5] White House, Remarks by President Trump at the 2017 Values Voter Summit (Oct. 13, 2017); Reuters, U.S. to Maintain Cuba, Venezuela Sanctions Until Freedoms Restored: Trump, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2017).

[6] White House, Remarks by Vice President Mike Pence at National Hispanic Heritage Month Reception (Oct. 11, 2017)

[7] Assoc. Press, Dangerous Sound? What Americans Heard in Cuba Attacks, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2017).

[8] Lima, The “Moscow Sign”, the mysterious Soviet Union bombardment of the US embassy, which lasted more than two decades during the Cold War, BBC News (Oct. 14, 2017).

[9] Assoc. Press, ‘Star Wars’ Fantasy? Cubans Doubt US Sonic Attacks Claims, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2017).

[10] Borger & Jaekl, Mass hysteria may explain ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba, say top neurologists, Guardian (Oct. 12, 2017).

[11] Gámez, Amidst growing tensions with U.S., Cuba gets cozier with Russia, Miami Herald (Oct. 13, 2017).

President Trump Condemns Cuba at the United Nations

On September 19, U.S. President Donald Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly.[1]  Most media attention has focused on his bellicose remarks about North Korea and Iran. But he also condemned Cuba and Venezuela. Here the focus is on the general theses he advanced, his comments about Cuba and reactions to the speech.

Trump’s Speech

His fundamental thesis was the U.S.’ “renewing this fundamental principle of sovereignty” and “our success depends on a coalition of strong, independent nations that embrace their sovereignty, to promote security, prosperity and peace for themselves and for the world.” (Emphasis added.)

In short, the world needed strong, effective sovereign nations. As he stated, the U.S. does “not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government. But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties:  to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation. This is the beautiful vision of this institution, and this is the foundation for cooperation and success.” (Emphasis added.)

Strong, sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures, and different dreams not just coexist, but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect. Strong, sovereign nations let their people take ownership of the future and control their own destiny.  And strong, sovereign nations allow individuals to flourish in the fullness of the life intended by God. (Emphasis added.)

President Trump’s subsidiary premise was the assertion that “in fulfilling our obligations to our own nations, we also realize that it’s in everyone’s interest to seek a future where all nations can be sovereign, prosperous, and secure.”

On the other hand, this was not a universal action item for every sovereign nation. As he stated, “we believe that no nation should have to bear a disproportionate share of the burden, militarily or financially.  Nations of the world must take a greater role in promoting secure and prosperous societies in their own regions.” (Emphasis added.)

“That is why in the Western Hemisphere, the United States has stood against the corrupt and destabilizing regime in Cuba and embraced the enduring dream of the Cuban people to live in freedom.  My administration recently announced that we will not lift sanctions on the Cuban government until it makes fundamental reforms.” (Emphasis added.)

President Trump then went on at length about Venezuela’s problems, at least some of which he also sees in Cuba. In his words, “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented. From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure.  Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems.” (Emphasis added.)

Reactions to the Speech[2]

Trump’s comments on sovereignty were criticized by the Foreign Minister of Sweden, Margot Wallstrom: “This was a bombastic, nationalist speech. . . .  This was a speech at the wrong time to the wrong audience.”

Vali R. Nasr, the Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies., said, “It looks like we will respect the sovereignty of countries we like, whether they are dictatorships or democracies, but we will not respect the sovereignty of countries we don’t like.” Nasr added, “His definition of sovereignty comes from a very narrow domestic prism.”

This speech generally did not get good reviews. For example, the editorial from the Guardian in London concluded that Trump “brought little clarity as to the wider strategy he contemplates. Threats and grandstanding are just bluster, not policy. Crises require a deftness the Trump administration has failed to demonstrate. He wants allies to back him, but seems oblivious that his lack of personal credibility is an obstacle to international cooperation. An “America First” approach runs counter to the UN’s multilateralism. His credo could be summed up by his claim that nations acting in their own self-interest create a more stable world. The question is what rules would states operate under? Not the UN’s, Trump’s response appeared to suggest. The president may want to speak of “principled realism”, but he is a reckless and dangerous leader, sitting, alas, in a most powerful position.”

These thoughts were echoed by a Guardian reporter, Julian Borger, who said the speech was full of “fulminations” of fear, especially his threat to “completely destroy North Korea,” which came just minutes after the U.N. Secretary General had told those at the Assembly and implicitly Trump himself, “Fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings.” More generally, “Trump punched yawning holes in his own would-be doctrine, singling out enemies, expressing horror at their treatment of their people and threatening interference to the point of annihilation. What was left . . . was a sense of incoherence and a capricious menace hanging in the air.”

The New York Times’ editorial said, “In all this fury, before a world body whose main purpose is the peaceful resolution of disputes, there was hardly a hint of compromise or interest in negotiations.” “Mr. Trump’s dark tone and focus seemed a significant deviation [from previous U.S. presidents], not least his relentlessly bellicose approach to North Korea.” On the other hand, “Mr. Trump’s largely benign comments about the United Nations were encouraging.”

The Washington Post editorial also criticized “Mr. Trump’s schoolboy taunts of ‘Rocket Man,’ his sobriquet for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and his threats, if the United States is ‘forced to defend itself or its allies . . . to totally destroy North Korea.’ The leader of a powerful nation makes himself sound simultaneously weak and bellicose with such bluster.” This editorial also said “there was something discordant in using the United Nations podium to proclaim the virtue, essentially, of national selfishness over international cooperation and multilateral organization. No doubt Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia will welcome this aspect of Mr. Trump’s address. They, too, have insisted on the unassailable ‘sovereignty’ of their formidable states and demanded that others not lecture them about values such as democracy and human rights, which they fear and abhor.” The editorial concluded, “Mr. Trump seemed to repudiate his own advocacy for human dignity and freedom when he said that “we do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or even systems of government” — as if democracy should be optional under the U.N. Charter.”

Surprisingly the Post’s respected foreign affairs columnist, David Ignatius, had a generally favorable reaction to the speech. He said, “the most surprising thing about President Trump’s address to the [U.N.] . . .  was how conventional it was. He supported human rights and democracy; he opposed rogue regimes; he espoused a global community of strong, sovereign nations.”

The editorial by the Wall Street Journal generally approved of the speech, but thought that Trump gave too narrow a definition to “national interest” by failure to include respect for the rights of the nation’s own people. Trump’s concept of sovereignty “also leaves authoritarians too much room to claim dominant [regional] spheres of influence,” such as Chinese and Russian leaders in the South China Sea and Ukraine. In short, Trump needs to learn “there is no substitute for U.S. leadership on behalf of American values and interests if he wants to build a more peaceful world.”

The speech’s negative comments about Cuba were rejected by that country’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, who  said that Trump “lacks the moral authority to criticize Cuba, a small and solidary country with extensive international cooperation.” Rodriguez also said in an interview with Telesur that the speech “was an unusual, aggressive, dominating, blatantly imperialist speech. Sovereignty [for Trump] means sovereignty for the United States, enslavement for all others; [it] completely ignores the concept of sovereign equality that inspires the [U.N.].” These comments were echoed by Cuba’s delegation to a Bilateral Commission meeting with the U.S.; the delegation said it protested “the disrespectful, unacceptable and meddling statements” by Trump at the U.N. Rodriguez also condemned the President’s aggressive comments against Venezuela and expressed Cuba’s solidarity with that country and its leaders. Granma, however, did publish the full text of the Trump speech.

Conclusion

There is much to criticize in the President’s speech. Foremost was his threat that the U.S. might have ”no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” (Emphasis added)

His perceived need for “strong sovereign nations” totally ignores all the destruction and pain inflicted on the world by such nations throughout history. This emphasis also ignores the multilateral efforts, especially after World War II, to develop multilateral, international treaties and institutions, including the United Nations, to protect the world against the excesses of strong sovereign nations. Yes, like all human institutions, the U.N. is not perfect and can and should be improved. Although Trump had some kind words for the U.N. and the Marshall Plan after World War II, he said the U.S. could no longer enter into “one-sided alliances or agreements.”

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, in her September 20 speech to the General Assembly implicitly gave the proper retort to the main thesis of Trump’s speech, that strong sovereign states were the appropriate building blocks for the contemporary world.[3] She said the following:

  • “The only way for us to respond to this vast array of challenges is to come together and defend the international order that we have worked so hard to create and the values by which we stand. For it is the fundamental values that we share, values of fairness, justice and human rights, that have created the common cause between nations to act together in our shared interest and form the multilateral system. And it is this rules-based system which we have developed, including the institutions, the international frameworks of free and fair trade, agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord and laws and conventions like the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which enables the global cooperation through which we can protect those values”
  • “If this system we have created is found no longer to be capable of meeting the challenges of our time then there will be a crisis of faith in multilateralism and global cooperation that will damage the interests of all our peoples. So those of us who hold true to our shared values, who hold true to that desire to defend the rules and high standards that have shaped and protected the world we live in, need to strive harder than ever to show that institutions like this United Nations can work for the countries that form them and for the people who we represent.”
  • “This means reforming our United Nations and the wider international system so it can prove its worth in helping us to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. And it means ensuring that those who flout the rules and spirit of our international system are held to account, that nations honor their responsibilities and play their part in upholding and renewing a rules-based international order that can deliver prosperity and security for us all.”

Trump’s comments on Cuba were a reprise of his June 2017 speech in Miami, Florida with severe criticism of Cuba that was enthusiastically received by the many older Cuban-Americans in the audience.[4] Both speeches, however, lacked nuance and failed to acknowledge the accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution, especially in health and education. It also is difficult to understand the basis for Trump’s assertion that the Cuban government was “destabilizing” or that it was “thoroughly corrupt.”

Both speeches also ignored the fact that Trump in June was only proposing to change two aspects of President Obama’s normalization policies: (a) banning U.S. persons from doing business with Cuban entities owned or controlled by the Cuban military or secret services and (b) banning U.S. citizens from going to Cuba on individual person-to-person travel, the latter of which has been subjected to criticism in this blog.[5]

The U.N. speech also failed to acknowledge that simultaneously and incongruously in Washington, D.C. the U.S. and Cuba were holding the sixth session of their Bilateral Commission that was established in the Obama Administration as a means to discuss the many unresolved issues that had accumulated in the nearly 60 years of strained relations; this session will be discussed in a subsequent post.

President Trump’s U.N. speech boasted about the U.S. announcing “that we will not lift sanctions on the Cuban government until it makes fundamental reforms.” This presumably refers to the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba, which no longer serves any legitimate purpose for the U.S. and which, therefore, should be unilaterally terminated by the U.S. Moreover, the embargo soon will be the subject of a General Assembly resolution that again will condemn that U.S. policy and again undoubtedly will be overwhelming adopted.[6]

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[1] White House, Remarks by President Trump to the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (Sept. 19, 2017); Landler, Trump Offers a Selective View of Sovereignty in U.N. Speech, N.Y. Times (Sept. 19, 2017); Jaffe & DeYoung, In Trump’s U.N. speech, emphasis on sovereignty echoes his domestic agenda, Wash. Post (Sept. 19, 2017).

[2] Assoc. Press, Reaction to Trump’s UN General Assembly Speech, N.Y. Times (Sept. 19, 2017); Editorial, The Guardian view on Trump at the UN: bluster and belligerence, Guardian (Sept. 19, 2017); Borger, A blunt, fearful rant: Trump’s UN speech left presidential norms in the dust, Guardian (Sept. 19, 2017); Editorial, Warmongers and Peacemakers at the U.N., N.Y. Times (Sept. 19, 2017); Editorial, Trump undermines his own advocacy for human dignity, Wash. Post (Sept. 19, 2017); Ignatius, The most surprising thing about Trump’s U.N. speech, Wash. Post (Sept. 19, 2017); Editorial, Trump Shock at Turtle Bay, W.S.J. (Sept. 20, 2017); Cuban Foreign Minister Condemns Trump’s Aggressive Address at UN, CubaDebate (Sept. 19, 2017); Cuban Foreign Minister in Telesur interview condemns Trump’s aggressive speech at UN, CubaDebate (Sept. 19, 2017); Reuters, Cuba Calls Trump’s U.N. Address ‘Unacceptable and Meddling,’ N.Y. Times (Sept. 19, 2017); Statement by President Trump to the seventy-second session of the United Nations General Assembly, Granma (Sept. 20, 2017).

[3] Theresa May’s speech to the UN General Assembly 2017 (Sept, 20, 2017).

[4] President Trump Announces Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017).

[5] Posts to dwkcommentaries,com: President Trump Announces Reversal of Some Cuba Normalization Policies (June 19, 2017); U.S. Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies (June 21, 2017); Cuban Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies  (June 22, 2017); This Blogger’s Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies (June 23, 2017). Other posts have criticised the proposed ban on individual person-to-person travel to Cuba, E.g., Cuban Entrepreneurs Issue Policy Recommendations to Trump Administration (July 19, 2017).

[6] Last year’s U.N. General Assembly resolution against the embargo is discussed in an earlier post. Other posts about the embargo are listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA .

European Union and Cuba Agree To Cooperate on Political Dialogue, Cooperation, Trade and Economic Relations             

On December 12, in Brussels, the European Union and Cuba signed the Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation. It will form the legal platform for future relations to support economic development and promote democracy and human rights on the island.[1]

The Agreement is divided into three chapters: (1) political dialogue, covering issues such as governance, human rights, stability and regional and international security and weapons of mass destruction; (2) cooperation, which is the most comprehensive and identifies sectors of cooperation; and (3) promotion of trade and economic relations based on the rules governing international trade, as well as strengthening of existing relations “on the basis of mutual respect, reciprocity, mutual interest and respect sovereignty.” The Agreement also states the goal for both sides is to “engage in dialogue for the purpose of strengthening human rights and democracy.”

The Agreement was signed by the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, and below is a photograph of them on this event.

cuba-eu

Minister Mogherini said, “This is a historic day, we’ve turned a page. Today we’re starting to write together a new chapter.” She also stated, “The developments in Washington that will come as of the end of January onwards will not affect in any way the relations between the European Union and Cuba. We are friends, we are partners. We want to work together and we will work together. The impact of this on others, it’s not for me to judge.”

This thought was echoed by Minister Rodriguez. “Relations between the EU and Cuba do not go via Washington and I remain convinced that there is now a very promising opportunity afforded us to further improve” EU-Cuba ties. He also noted “one major obstacle to trade relations between the EU and Cuba” — the U.S. economic and financial blockade.

Mogherini, supporting Rodriguez, said, “The European Union has raised concerns about the extraterritorial effect of U.S. sanctions on Cuba. We will continue to do so because we believe that this is not only in the interest of the island and its people — all of them — but most of all in our case, it’s in the interest of Europeans to tackle this issue.”

This new pact must now be ratified by national and regional parliaments in all EU member states before it can enter completely into force, although the bloc has decided to provisionally apply parts of it immediately.

As a prelude to the signing of the pact, on December 6, the EU agreed to terminate its 1996 Common Position on Cuba that required Cuban progress on human rights and democracy before normal trade relations with the EU.

This development should be a wakeup call to U.S. opponents of normalization of its relations with Cuba. The U.S. is not the only country that has relations with Cuba and delaying our normalization gives our competitors an advantage.

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[1] Norman, Trump Presidency ‘Will Not Affect in Any Way,’ Relations between EU and Cuba, W.S.J. (Dec. 6, 2016); Assoc. Press, EU, Cuba Sign Cooperation Pact, Vow Trump Will Not Hurt Ties, N.Y. Times (Dec. 12, 2016); The European Union and the regime sign the Agreement on Political Dialogue and Cooperation, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 12, 2016); Cuban foreign minister arrives in Brussels for signing agreement with the EU, Granma (Dec. 11, 2016); The European Union repealing Common Position on Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 6, 2016); Delegation of the European Union to Cuba, Cuba and the EU, 10/05/2016.