Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review Hearing by the U.N. Human Rights Council

On May 16, the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland held a 210-minute public hearing on its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cuba’s human rights record. The hearing consisted of Cuba’s report by its Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, and other Cuban officials; comments and recommendations by 140 countries (50 seconds each for a total of approximately 117 minutes); and responses by the Cuban officials.

Before the hearing,, the Council received Cuba’s human rights report, a summary of U.N. information about Cuba, reports from stakeholders (human rights organizations and others); and advance questions from some U.N. Members. The  224 submissions from stakeholders, for example, included around 17 that said Cuba’s constitutional and legislative framework “guaranteed the enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The Cuban Human Rights Observatory, and others, on the other hand, said that Cuba had not undertaken any reforms to promote the exercise of political freedoms.[1]

Cuban Government’s Report[2]

From the times of the US military occupation, which severed our independence, under the governments it imposed, 45 per cent of children did not attend schools; 85 per cent of persons lacked running water; farmers lived in abject poverty without ever owning the land they tilled and immigrants were brutally exploited. In Cuba [during those years], workers and farmers had no rights.  Extrajudicial execution, enforced disappearances and torture were recurrent.  Discrimination based on the color of the skin was brutal; poverty was rampant and women and girls were even more excluded.  The dignity of Cubans was tarnished and Cuba’s national culture was trampled upon.” (Emphasis added.)

“The Cuban Revolution led by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruiz transformed that reality and continues to strive to improve the quality of life, wellbeing and social justice for all of our people, thus implementing all human rights. That willingness to protect human dignity, provide equal opportunities and ‘conquer all the justice,’ has remained unchanged and unswerving until today.”

“Our country has continued to take steps to further improve its economic and social development model with the purpose of building a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation by strengthening the institutional structure of our political system, which is genuinely participatory and enjoys full popular support.”

In accordance with the Constitution, we have continued to strengthen the legal and institutional framework for the protection and promotion of those rights, and we have introduced modifications and proposals adapted to the needs and realities of the Cuban society and international standards. The attention to citizens has been equally improved by means of the expansion of the mechanisms, ways and recourses in the hands of the population to denounce any  infringement of the legal system or their rights; file claims or petitions to the competent authorities; channel up their opinions and concerns and actively participate in the adoption of government decisions.”

The Foreign Minister then provided more details about Cuba’s “protection of the right to life. . .; law enforcement authorities . . . [being] subject to rigorous control processes and popular scrutiny.; . . .There has been no impunity in the very few cases of abuses involving law enforcement agents and officials;” no traffic in firearms; continued strengthening of “people’s participation in government decision-making and the exercise of the freedoms recognized under the Constitution and the law;” increased “effectiveness of the control exercised by all citizens over the activity of state organs, elected representatives and public officials;” advancing “the promotion of the right to full equality; in the struggle against elements of discrimination based on the color of the skin and against women;” and  increasing “support to prevent and cope with manifestations of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” He also mentioned increases in numbers of civil society organizations, and said defenders of human rights enjoy government recognition and support.

However, in Cuba, “the legal system cannot be infringed upon or subverted to satisfy a foreign agenda that calls for a change of regime, the constitutional order and the political system that Cubans have freely chosen.  Those who act this way are not worthy of being described as human rights defenders; they rather qualify as agents to the service of a foreign power, according to many western legislations. (Emphasis added.)

Cuba has continued to strengthen its cooperation with the UN mechanisms that take care of these issues. . . We have strictly complied with all  . . . 44 of the 61 international human rights instruments [into which we have entered.]”

“Cuba has continued to promote initiatives at the [U.N.] Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, for the defense of human rights, including the rights to development and peace.  We have consistently opposed every attempt to politically manipulate said bodies; selectivity as well as double standards.”

Likewise, “huge efforts are being made, amid adverse financial conditions, to preserve the purchasing power of salaries and pensions, improve access to food, adequate housing and public transportation, while preserving and even enhancing the quality of universal and free education and public health. No one will ever be left to his or her own fate in Cuba.”

“We cannot but mention our condition as a small island developing country, faced with an unfavorable international economic situation, characterized by the prevalence of irrational and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption; market regulations and non-transparent and less than democratic international financial institutions. Added to this are the adverse effects of climate change and the impact of natural disasters of high intensity on our economy.  Substantial resources should be invested to cope with them. (Emphasis added.)

“The strengthening of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba and its extraterritorial implementation causes deprivations and continue to be the main obstacle to the economic and social development of the country.  This unjust policy, which has been rejected by the international community, violates the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and International Law and represents a flagrant, massive and systematic violation of the human rights of our people, thus qualifying as an act of genocide under the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948.” (Emphasis added.)

“We demand the return of the territory usurped by the US Naval Base in Guantánamo, where the United States maintains a detention camp in which serious human rights violations and acts of torture are committed.”(Emphasis added.)

“The political and media campaigns against Cuba, which distort our reality, intend to discredit our country and conceal Cuba’s undeniable human rights achievements.“ Emphasis added.)

We are opened to dialogue and will offer all the necessary information based on the respect and objectivity that should characterize this exercise, in which there should be no double standards or politically motivated manipulations, which we will not accept, because, as was expressed by the President of the Council of State and Ministers, Comrade Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez on April 19, “there is no room for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle.  In Cuba, by the decision of the people, there is only room for the continuity of that legacy with the Revolution and the founding generation, without giving up to pressures, without fear and setbacks, always defending our truths and reasons, without ever renouncing sovereignty and independence, development programs and our own dreams.” (Emphasis added.)

Other Countries Comments and Recommendations[3]

During the hearing a total of 339 recommendations, many of which are repetitious, were made. Many countries, especially those friendly with Cuba like Russia and China and developing countries, made no recommendations at all. Others were more critical: members of the European Union (EU), United States, Japan, Canada, but also Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Gabriel Salvia, the General Director of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America, said, “It is a great step forward for more Latin American countries to point out the human rights situation in Cuba,”

Near the end of this section of the hearing, the U.S.’ 50-seconds were the sharpest against Cuba.[4] Michele Roulbet, the U.S. delegate, said:

  • “The April presidential transition again robbed the Cuban people of any real choice in shaping their country’s future; the same actors are in charge, many just with different titles, selected in a process that was neither free nor fair. The government stacked the system against independent candidates, none of whom were able to run for seats in the National Assembly, which selected the president.”
  • “The Cuban government continues to criminalize independent civil society and severely restricts the freedoms of expression, association, religion or belief and the right of peaceful assembly.  It routinely applies laws to silence journalists and critics, and punishes those working to expand access to information and freedom of expression for those in Cuba.”
  • In an “attempt to silence opposition voices, the government reportedly continues to use arbitrary and politically motivated detentions, torture, harassment, and travel prohibitions.  Recent examples of this include those who attempted to monitor the undemocratic presidential transition; those who have advocated for political change; and those who were prevented from participating in the 2018 Summit of the Americas in Lima and this UPR process.”

The U.S. then made the following three recommendations to Cuba: (1) “Reform its one-party system to allow for genuinely free and fair multi-party elections that provide citizens with real choices [regarding their government. “(2) “Cease the practice of arbitrarily detaining journalists, opposition members, and human rights defenders, including preemptively, and adopt a legal framework that ensures judicial independence.” (3) “Release arbitrarily detained or imprisoned individuals who were detained and imprisoned for peaceful assembly, investigate and report on government activity, or express political dissent, and allow them to travel freely both domestically and internationally.”

About midway through this section, Cuba responded to some of the criticisms. It denied the existence of political prisoners in Cuba, restrictions on the right to strike, or even the obstacles to travel freely, while insisting on the independence of the justice system. Cuban. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez described the alleged dissidents and human rights activists as “agents of a foreign power,” a regular practice of the regime to attempt to discredit opponents.

Cuba’s Closing Comments[5]

Foreign Minister Rodriguez in his final statement at the hearing said, “It is regrettable that certain countries are continuing to manipulate the human rights question for political ends, to justify the embargo on Cuba and ‘regime change.’ hey have no moral authority and on the contrary are the perpetrators of extensive, well documented and unpunished violations of human rights; they ride roughshod over the aims of the Universal Periodic Examination and persist in selectivity, double standards and the politicization of human rights.” (Emphasis added.)

These practices, which in recent years have started to reemerge, discredited the [former U.N.] Commission on Human Rights and prompted its replacement by this Council. We will be on a retrograde path if we allow such deviant practices to be consolidated in the Council’s work. Respectful dialogue reflecting the principles of objectivity, impartiality and non-selectivity; and the respect for each people’s self-determination, its right to decide its own political, economic, social and cultural system, and its development model, are the cornerstone of international cooperation in this area.” (emphasis added.)

A small number of the recommendations have an interventionist character, contrary to the spirit of cooperation and respect on which this exercise is based. One of the recommendations is strange: it is the United States which is prohibiting its citizens from travelling to Cuba and restricts their freedom to travel; it is Washington which is denying Cubans, Cuban families, consular services and visa issue at its embassy in Havana.” [These recommendations will be rejected.] (Emphasis added.)

We are keeping to our “socialist and democratic revolution, with the humble and for the humble” proclaimed by Commander-In-Chief Fidel Castro and inspired by José Martí’s brotherly formula: “With everyone and for the benefit of everyone”.

U.S.-Cuba Subsequent Conflict Over Cuba’s UPR[6]

Immediately after the Geneva hearing, from the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in New York City,  U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, issued a statement. It said that the UPR process expects countries “to allow independent civil society organizations to fully and freely participate in their UPR process. However, the Cuban government blocked independent Cuban civil society members from traveling to Geneva to participate in their review process, just as they did last month when they blocked Cuban civil society members from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit of the Americas.” (Emphasis added.)

Ambassador Haley added, “A country with a human rights record as abysmal as Cuba’s is no stranger to silencing its critics. But the Cuban government can’t silence the United States. We will continue to stand up for the Cuban people and get loud when the Cuban government deprives its people of their human rights and fundamental freedoms and robs them of free, fair, and competitive elections, denying them the opportunity to shape their country’s future.” (Emphasis added.)

Meanwhile the live webcast of the hearing was watched in Miami by some Cuban-Americans, who were gathered at the headquarters of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, whose website says, “Since its inception in 1990, the Cuban Democratic Directorate  has been characterized by a consistent and cohesive strategy for liberty and democracy in Cuba.” The Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, which was established in 1992 “to promote a nonviolent transition to a free and democratic Cuba with zero tolerance for human rights violations,” complained that Cuba had flooded the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights with letters sent by Communist Party organizations, the Cuban Women’s Federation and other organizations affiliated with the government that contained “absurd praise about the Cuban system.”

Remaining Steps in Cuba’s UPR[7]

Following the UPR hearing,  Cuba this September will submit a formal response to the recommendations, and the Working Group then will prepare a draft of the Outcomes Report. This report will provide a summary of the actual discussion, including the questions, comments and recommendations made by States to Cuba, as well as the responses by the Cuban Government.

Such outcome reports are not all that illuminating. For example, the one for Cuba’s prior review in 2013, which probably will be a lot like the one forthcoming for this latest review,[8] contains a summary of the hearing–presentation by Cuba (para. 5-26), interactive dialogue and responses by Cuba (paras. 27-169)—and a mere sequential listing of the repetitive recommendations made by the states at the hearing (paras. 170.1-170.291) although there also is an integrated more useful 45-page “thematic matrix of the recommendations.”

Another document from 2013 set forth Cuba’s views on these conclusions and recommendations and its voluntary commitments. It  listed many recommendations that “enjoy the support of the Government of Cuba;” others that have been noted by the Government; and the following 20 that  did “not enjoy the support of the Government:”

No. Country Recommendation
170.136 Belgium Adopt legislation to improve immigration & relations with Cuban diaspora
170.139 Belgium, Czech Repub., Slovenia Implement legal safeguards to protect human rights defenders, journalists, against abuse of provisions for criminal prosecution & release all political prisoners
179.162 Belgium Amend the Law of Criminal Procedure in order to avoid the cases of indefinite extension of the preliminary investigation
170.171 Romania, Estonia & Hungary Remove restrictions on freedom of expression notably concerning the connection to the Internet; Reconsider all laws that criminalize or restrict the right to freedom of expression & right of internet freedom; Lift restrictions on rights to freedom of expression that are not in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; ensure affordable & unhindered access to the internet for all.
179.172 Spain Allow freedoms of expression, association &assembly; allow human rights associations to obtain legal status through inclusive and official registration
170.173 Switzerland Lift restrictions hindering free expression & ensure that human rights defenders & independent journalists are not victims of intimidations or arbitrary prosecutions & detentions
170.174 U.K. & Northern Ireland End measures to restrict freedom of expression & assembly including short-term detentions and use of criminal charges such as “precriminal social dangerousness”, “contempt” and “resistance”
170.175 Ireland Repeal legislation relating to so-called “pre-criminal social dangerousness”
170.176 U.S.A. Eliminate or cease enforcing laws impeding freedom of expression
170.177 France Guarantee freedom of expression & peaceful assembly plus free activity of human rights defenders, independent journalists & political opponents
170.179 Canada Take further measures to improve freedom of expression by allowing for independent media &  improving access to information through public access to internet by taking advantage of the recent investment in the fiber optic network
170.182 Austria Guarantee free, free & independent environment for journalists and ensure that all cases of attacks against them are investigated by independent & impartial bodies
170.183 Netherlands End repression, investigate acts of repudiation & protect all persons who are targets of intimidation or violence
170.184 Poland Liberate immediately & unconditionally all prisoners held in temporary detention or sentenced in connection with exercising their freedom of opinion & expression as well as freedom of assembly & association
170.187 U.S.A. Release Alan Gross and imprisoned journalists such as Jose Antonio Torres immediately. [Gross was released on 12/17/14]
170.188 Australia Stop limitations on civil society activities, including short-term detention of political activists
170,189 Germany Stop harassment, intimidation & arbitrary detention of human rights activities
179.190 Hungary Stop short-term detentions, harassments & other repressive measures against human rights defenders & journalists. Implement legal safeguards to ensure their protection against abuse of provisions for criminal prosecution
170.192 Australia Reduce government influence & control over internet as part of a broader commitment to freedom of expression
170.193 Germany End online censorship

 

The report finally has to be adopted at a plenary session of the Human Rights Council. During the plenary session, the State under review can reply to questions and issues that were not sufficiently addressed during the Working Group and respond to recommendations that were raised by States during the review. Time is also allotted to member and observer States who may wish to express their opinion on the outcome of the review and for stakeholders to make general comments.

Conclusion

After the final adoption of the Outcomes Report, the Council has no authority or power to compel Cuba to do anything. Instead, Cuba “has the primary responsibility to implement the recommendations contained in the final outcome.”

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Cuba’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council (April 30, 2018); Advance Questions for Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council (May 11, 2018).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba will continue to build an ever freer, more democratic, just and fraternal society (May 16, 2018).

[3] ‘It is a great step forward for more Latin American countries to point out the human rights situation in Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (May 16, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba reiterates its commitment to cooperate with the UN human rights system (May 16, 2018); Havana warns that it will reject the recommendations of the UN with criticism of its ‘constitutional order,’ Diario de Cuba (May 18, 2018).

[4] U.S. Mission to U.N. (Geneva), U.S. Statement at the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba (May 16, 2018).

[5]  Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba reiterates its commitment to cooperate with the UN human rights system (May 18, 2018); Havana warns that it will reject the recommendations of the UN with criticism of its ‘constitutional order,’ Diario de Cuba (May 18, 2018).

[6] U.S. Mission to U.N., Press Release: Ambassador Haley on Cuba’s Human Rights Record (May 16, 2018).

[7] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Basic facts about the UPR.

[8] U.N. Hum. Rts.  Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cuba (July 8, 2013); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cuba: Addendum: Views on conclusions and recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review (Sept. 2013); U.N. Human Rts. Council, Matrix of recommendations.

 

Drop in Foreign Tourists for Cuba  

For the First Quarter of 2018, Cuban Tourism Ministry’s commercial director, Michel Bernal, told a news conference in Havana that Cuba had a 7% decline in foreign tourists.  The reporting of this press conference by Reuters of London and by Cuban sources has interesting differences.

Reuters’ Report[1]

There are two major reasons for this reduction.

First is the reduction of U.S. tourists, which was only 56.6% of what it was for the same quarter in 2017. Director Bernal said that this decline was attributable to the U.S. restrictions and warning on travel to Cuba that were imposed by the Trump Administration.

Another reason for the overall decline was unjustified foreigners worries about the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma last September and that has been largely repaired.

The overall decline has hurt Cuba’s private sector (the self-employed sector in Cuban terms) that operates bed-and-breakfasts, private restaurants and guides.

Cuban Reports

The primary source of information for Cubans is the hard-copy issues of Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba. There also are Cuba’s Internet sources: Cubadebate and Diario de Cuba.

  1. Granma’s Report[2]

Granma did not mention the overall 7% decline in tourism for the first quarter of 2018. Instead it stressed (a) that the “growth of the Cuban tourist industry . . . is a sign of the confidence of the sector in the security and stability of the Greater Antilles;” and (b) Cuba’s recent receipt of “the Excellence Award as the safest country for tourism during the XXXVIII International Trade Fair -Fitur 2018, which took place in January in Madrid.”

Granma did acknowledge that Mr. Bernal had mentioned there had been a “slowdown caused mainly by hurricanes Irma and Maria,” but that Cuba still expected five million tourists this year. Also mentioned was what it called the U.S. “’unjustified ‘travel alert, ‘which tells the citizens of that country “’to reconsider travel to Cuba.”‘ The measure of aggression it tried to justify with the supposed risk of suffering ‘acoustic attacks’ on which, after months of research, there is no evidence or scientific evidence.”

  1. Cubadebate’s Report[3]

This report mentioned the 7% overall decline in the first quarter, the projection of 2 million foreign visitors through May and 5 million for the entire year.

It also reported that the largest number of visitors were Canadians followed by Cubans living abroad. In third place were “American visitors, who because of the blockade imposed by their government cannot travel to the island as tourists and whose arrivals decreased at the end of 2017 due to the passage of Irma, in addition to the restrictive measures promoted in September [2017] by the President Donald Trump. [The reduction of American visitors also was] influenced by travel alerts to Cuba, issued by the State Department after the alleged incidents that occurred in previous months in which officials of the US Embassy in Havana were implicated.”

Cubadebate is a Cuban website published by the Circle of Cuban Journalists against Terrorism , in which Cuban journalists and other nationalities collaborate. It aims to be “a space for information and exchange on topics related to subversion actions and defamatory campaigns organized against Cuba.”  It is published in seven languages, including Spanish and has become the most visible digital medium on the Cuban website.

  1. Diario de Cuba’s Report[4]

A more detailed report of the press conference appeared in Diario de Cuba. It had the 7% decline of tourists in the first quarter. It also said that after Canadians and Cubans living abroad, “US visitors appear in third place, despite measures taken by President Donald Trump, late last year, which included a travel alert to its citizens after the symptoms experienced by diplomatic personnel in Havana.”

Although this blogger has not been able to ascertain much information about this source, it is believed to originate outside Cuba, probably in the U.S., and is believed to be affiliated with Cubanet, which describes itself as an independent source of Cuban news since 1994.

Conclusion

It is not surprising that the number of American visitors to Cuba has declined and that it is attributable in substantial part to the Trump Administration’s harsh rhetoric against Cuba[5] the new U.S. regulations about Americans’ travel to Cuba[6] and the new State Department Travel Advisory about Cuba.[7]

Americans, however, should recognize that there are still 12 categories for legal travel to Cuba by Americans,[8] that the new State Department Travel Advisory for Cuba does not ban travel to the island and instead suggests Americans reconsider any plans to travel to the island and that the asserted basis for the Department’s urging Americans to reconsider is the reported adverse health incidents experienced by some U.S. diplomats who were staying in only two hotels in Havana (Hotels Nacional and Capri).[9] Moreover, Americans also should recognize that visitors to Cuba, especially from the U.S., help to support the privately owned bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, tour guides and others, which now has nearly 30% of the Cuban economy and which is a potential force for changes in Cuba.

In short, as a three-time traveler to Cuba, I urge my fellow Americans:  go to Cuba and have a great time![10]

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[1] Acosta, U.S. visits to Cuba plunge following Trump measures, Reuters (April 24, 2018); Reuters, U.S. Visits to Cuba Plunge Following Trump Measures, N.Y. Times (April 24, 2018).

[2] Pérez, We are a safe tourist destination, Granma (April 24, 2018)

[3] Rectified note: 7% decrease in tourist arrivals to Cuba in the first quarter, Cubadebate (April 24, 2018).

 

[4] The arrival of tourists to Cuba in the first quarter of the year decrease by 7%, Diario de Cuba (April 25, 2018).

[5] See, e.g., President Trump Announces Reversal of Some Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017)

[6]  See, e.g., New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities,  dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 8, 2017); Reactions to New U.S. Regulations About U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Cuban Entities, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 9, 2017); Additional Reactions to New U.S. Regulations Regarding Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 11, 2017).

[7] See, e.g., A New Travel Warning for Americans Traveling to Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 19, 2017); State Department’s New Travel Advisory System for Cuba and Other Countries, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2018); Perplexing Status of U.S. Travel to Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 30, 2018).

[8] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Frequently Asked Questions Related to Travel to Cuba (Questions 5 through 37).

[9]U.S. State Dep’t, Cuba Travel Advisory.

[10] Given the new requirement for U.S. person-to-person travel to be with an organized group, one organizer of such groups worthy of consideration is the Center for Cuban Studies based in Brooklyn, N.Y. It specializes in small groups  with different themes such as African Roots of Cuban Culture, Art & Architecture and Cuba in Transition. In addition, for groups between 4 and 20 persons, it will create customized journeys.

Upcoming Cuba Issues for Trump Administration

On April 13-14, President Donald Trump will attend the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, and on April 19 Cuba’s national legislature will elect a new President of the Council of State to succeed Raúl Castro. Both of these events will require Trump to comment on U.S. policies regarding Cuba, and already U.S. forces are proposing responses.

 Summit of the Americas

Because of U.S. opposition, Cuba was not included in the first six such summits, 1994-2012, but in October 2014, the major countries of Latin America let it be known that Cuba no longer could be excluded from the next summit in April 2015. Therefore, when President Obama on December 17, 2014, announced that the U.S. and Cuba had agreed to commence a process of normalization, the U.S. abandoned its opposition to the inclusion of Cuba in such Summits. As a result, in April 2015 Cuba was included in the seventh such summit in Panama and Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro held a cordial meeting on that occasion.[1]

This year will be the eighth such summit, which are institutionalized gatherings of the heads of state and government of the Western Hemisphere where leaders discuss common policy issues, affirm shared values and commit to concerted actions at the national and regional level to address continuing and new challenges faced in the Americas. This year’s theme is Democratic Governance Against Corruption.[2]

On March 9, the White House announced that President Trump will attend the eighth Summit, where he likely will be met by hostile reactions to his Cuba policies as well as his anti-immigrant statements, proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border and tariff and other anti-free trade proposals and rhetoric.[3]

According to Ben Raderstorf, a program associate in the Inter-American Dialogue’s Peter D. Bell Rule of Law program, President Trump “comes to the summit meeting with considerable baggage, making the risks far greater. His participation may even end up being counterproductive to the meeting’s primary aims of furthering human rights, democracy and inter-American diplomacy.” Therefore, he and his administration need “to understand that America’s credibility in Latin America is extraordinarily low. [Mr. Trump’s] rhetoric about ‘drugs,’ ‘rapists’ and ‘the wall” ‘has clearly resonated south of the border.” As a result, only “16 percent of Latin Americans approve of Mr. Trump’s job performance — a rate even lower than his approval rating among Latinos in the United States.”[4]

Mr. Raderstorf concludes by recommending that Trump “follow three simple guidelines: Listen first. Talk softly. And do your homework.” Will Trump be able to do that? We may be doubtful, but let us wait and find out.

This analysis is confirmed by other countries in the Western Hemisphere having begun “forging closer commercial ties with one another and paring back some of their own protectionist policies” and creating “a free trade area reaching from Canada to Chile.” At the same time these governments “are increasingly looking to Asia, and China in particular, to expand trade, obtain loans and finance infrastructure projects” while “Mercosur — the trade bloc that includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — have jump-started trade negotiations with the European Union.”[5]

Election of New President of Cuba

On March 11, over 8 million Cubans voted to elect 605 deputies for their national legislature (National Assembly of Peoples Power), and on April 19 those deputies will elected the country’s next President of the Council of State to succeed Raúl Castro. The widely assumed choice for this office is Miguel Diaz-Canel, who is now the First Vice President of Cuba.[6]

On March 9, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and five Florida Republican U.S. Representatives (Ron DeSantis, Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ted Yoho) sent a letter to President Trump urging him to “denounce Castro’s successor as illegitimate in the absence of free, fair, and multiparty elections, and call upon the international community to support the right of the Cuban people to decide their future.”[7]

The letter added, this upcoming election is “a predetermined, charade election orchestrated by regime officials will continue the dictatorship” and “yet another example of the regime’s dictatorial repression of fundamental freedoms which must not be recognized by those who value freedom and democracy.”

The U.S. response to this request by Senator Rubio and others may have been signaled by the comments of the U.S. representative last week at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva Switzerland that were quoted in a prior post: “We condemn the undemocratic electoral process in which the Cuban people cannot freely choose their future leaders.”

Conclusion

Any U.S. criticism of the Cuban process for electing its president of the Council of State seems particularly inappropriate. As we well know from the 2016 U.S. presidential election, U.S. citizens do not directly elect the U.S. president; instead they elect individuals to be members of the Electoral College who then elect the president. The 2016 election also is now under investigation for illegal interference by Russia, and the U.S. system is under constant legal challenge for the gerrymandering of congressional districts and for state laws that are designed to suppress voting instead of their purported purpose of preventing fraudulent voting.

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[1] See the following posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Continued Bad News About U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba (Oct. 9, 2014); Comment: U.S. Now Willing To Accept Cuba at Summit of the Americas? (Oct. 9, 2014); U.S. Clarifies Positions on Cuba and Venezuela in Preparation for Summit of the Americas (April 8, 2015); Seventh Summit of the Americas Is Underway in Panama (April 9, 2015); President Obama’s Major Speech at the Summit of the Americas (April 16, 2015); Cuban President Raúl Castro’s Major Speech at the Summit of the Americas (April 17, 2015); Presidents Obama and Castro’s Meeting at the Summit of the Americas (April 18, 2015); Other Remarks by President Obama at the Seventh Summit of the Americas (April 19, 2015).

[2] OAS, Summits of the Americas.

[3] Assoc. Press, Trump to Attend Summit of the Americas Meeting in Peru, N.Y. Times (Mar. 9, 2018).

[4] Raderstorf, Can Trump Succeed at the Summit of the Americas?, N.Y. Times (Mar. 16, 2018).

[5] Londoño, Darlington & Politi, ‘World Upside Down’: As Trump Pushes Tariffs, Latin America Links Up, N.Y. Times (Mar. 18, 2018).

[6] Reinaldo, Rubio & Perez, Elections in Cuba: Elected 605 deputies to the National Assembly (+Infographics and Video), CubaDebate (Mar. 12, 2018); Cuba’s Elections, 2017-2018, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 29, 2017); Another Perspective on Cuba’s Current Elections, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 5, 2017).

[7] Press Release, Rubio, DeSantis Urge President Trump to Denounce Castro Successor (Mar. 9, 2018).

 

 

More Details on Medical Problems of Canadian Diplomats in Cuba         

Newly disclosed Canadian government documents reveal more details about medical problems experienced by their diplomats and members of their families in Cuba.[1]

In May 2017 one of those diplomats in a message to the government in Ottawa reported that some diplomats and members of their families, including children, had symptoms including headaches, dizziness, nausea, hearing loss, nosebleeds and cognitive issues including loss of short-term memory. “Many of the symptoms are similar to signs of extreme stress, and there is the possibility that there could be mental health effects caused by the fear of being targeted. Either way, testing should help to rule out cases and reassure personnel that we have the means to be able to provide duty of care. There are no answers. We are left to (sift through) what we know about … the targets and possible suspects.”

By June 9, the Canadian mission was underscoring the need for help from a Canadian federal medical adviser and stressing that new diplomatic personnel bound for Cuba should be made aware as soon as possible of the strange ailments affecting staff. In the meantime, local guards were asked to increase their patrols around the residential properties of Canadian staff and to be extra vigilant in reporting. This report also mentioned additional symptoms: loss of consciousness, blurred eyesight, lack of balance and ear pain. “Many have heard strange noises in their residences and have experienced symptoms that they have not had before in their lives.”

On June 18  Dr. Jeffrey Chernin of Health Canada went to Cuba to meet concerned staff individually and take part in a townhall-style meeting a few days later. The doctor found that symptoms, experience and recovery varied, but he seemed to rule out viral causes such as the flu or hearing loss due to age. He also found that the symptoms were similar to those experienced by U.S. personnel in Cuba.

Subsequently Privy Council Office and Global Affairs Canada officials held a meeting with Cuban counterparts to encourage “closer collaboration” on fact-finding, explore the possibility of greater security in areas where Canadian diplomats were living “to discourage further attacks” and express Canada’s ongoing commitment to good relations.

By August, however, it appeared the situation was not yet resolved. A Health Canada medical adviser suggested in an August 11 email that “routine audiometry,” which measures individuals’ hearing sensitivity, could be conducted as a baseline for Canada-based staff headed on posting to Havana.

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[1] Bronskill, Trudeau Government Sent Doctors To Cuba To Examine Canadian Diplomats With Mysterious Ailments: Records, HuffPost (Jan. 4, 2018); Smith, Canadian children were among those affected by sonic attacks in Cuba, documents suggest, Nat’l Post [Canadian newspaper] (Jan. 4, 2018). Previous posts about the medical problems of U.S. diplomats in Cuba have mentioned the similar problems of Canadian diplomats; they may be found in a search of posts mentioning “Canada and Cuba.”

Trump’s Hostility Towards Cuba Provides Opportunities for Russia              

As noted in previous posts, President Donald Trump in only one year in office has expressed hostility towards Cuba in various ways. Those actions have created opportunities for other countries to increase their connections with Cuba and thereby damage U.S. business relations with the island and potentially U.S. national security.

Opportunities for Russia

The foremost beneficiary of these U.S. changes has been Russia.

On December 16, in Havana Cuba President Raúl Castro and Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas met with the head of Russian oil company Rosneft, Igor Sechin, for discussions about increasing Cuba’s purchases of oil from Rosneft and modernizing the island’s oil refinery in Cienfuegos. Also participating in the meeting was Mikhail L. Kamynin, Russian ambassador in Cuba.[1]

This May Rosneft started shipping some oil to Cuba, the first significant such sales since the early 1990s. The resumption of this relationship is in response to the U.S. hostility and discouraging U.S. business with the island and to the significant reduction of Venezuela’s shipments of such products to Cuba and the resulting shortages of fuel and electricity for Cubans.

Other Russian beneficiaries are Avtovaz, Russia’s biggest carmaker; KAMAZ, Russia’s largest truck manufacturer; and Sinara, a large locomotive manufacturer. Next month Avtovaz will ship 300 new shiny Lada automobiles to Cuba and hopes to ramp up such exports, thanks to financing from Russian government development bank VEB. Last month Sinara delivered the first of 75 locomotives worth $190 million ordered by Cuba in 2016.[2]

In addition, Russian Railways (RZD) is negotiating to upgrade more than 1000 km of Cuban railroads and to install a high-speed link between Havana and the beach resort of Varadero, in what would be Cuba’s biggest infrastructure project in decades worth $2.26 billion

Aleksandr Bogatyr, Russia’s trade representative in Cuba, said that there Has been a “renaissance” as he forecast bilateral trade could grow to $350 million to $400 million this year, one of its highest levels in nearly two decades, up from $248 million in 2016.

A major obstacle to all of these deals is Cuba’s lack of cash and Russia’s own economic problems. Yet in 2014 Russia forgave 90 percent of Cuba’s $35 billion Soviet-era debt and started providing export financing to Russian companies looking to sell to the cash-strapped island.

An outsider to the Russian connection, Jason Marczak, Director the U.S.-based Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, observed, “Russia sees it as a moment to further its own relationship with Cuba” and “the more the Russian footprint increases in Cuba, the more that will reinforce hardened anti-U.S. attitudes and shut out U.S. businesses from eventually doing greater business in Cuba.”

Challenge to U.S. National Security

All of this also represents a national security challenge to the U.S. This April a group of high-ranking military officers wrote an open letter to the Trump administration urging continuation of the U.S. opening with Cuba. One of the letter’s signatories, retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David L. McGinnis, said, “If Russia is willing to offset oil supplies from Venezuela and some other things, maybe Cuba doesn’t have much of a choice but to let them re-establish political warfare operations there.”

This general Russian threat to the U.S. is recognized in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America that was released on December 18. At the very start on page 2 it states,, “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.” This was made specific with respect to Cuba  on page 51 with the following statements: “In Venezuela and Cuba, governments cling to anachronistic leftist authoritarian models that continue to fail their people. Competitors have found operating space in the hemisphere. . . . Russia continues its failed politics of the Cold War by bolstering its radical Cuban allies as Cuba continues to repress its citizens.”  (Emphases added.)

The U.S. National Security Strategy reacts to the Russian challenge by saying that  the U.S. with Canada and “key countries in the region . . . . will build a stable and peaceful hemisphere that increases economic opportunities for all, improves governance, reduces the power of criminal organizations, and limits the malign influence of non-hemispheric forces. . . . We will catalyze regional efforts to build security and prosperity through strong diplomatic engagement. We will isolate governments that refuse to act as responsible partners in advancing hemispheric peace and prosperity. We look forward to the day when the people of Cuba and Venezuela can enjoy freedom and the benefits of shared prosperity, and we encourage other free states in the hemisphere to support this shared endeavor. (Emphases added.)

But this presidential document fails to acknowledge that this Russian involvement was precipitated, in part, by the Trump Administration’s own hostility towards Cuba and that a continuation of normalization of relations with Cuba would not have provided “operating space” in Cuba for “competitors” like Russia.[3]

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[1] Reuters, Cuba’s Castro and Russian Oil Executive Meet in Havana, N.Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2017); Raúl receives Igor Sechin, Granma (Dec. 18, 2017).

[2] Reuters, Cuba Boost Trade Ties with Cold War Ally Russia as U.S. Disengages, N.Y. Times (Dec. 19, 2017).

[3] White House, National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Dec. 2017).

 

 

 

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 Pays $60 Million of Indebtedness to Major Creditor Nations     

The week of October 15 Cuba paid $60 million of indebtiness to 14 wealthy creditor nations. Last year Cuba paid $40 million to the same group. The total debt is $2.6 billion after the creditors in 2015 forgave $8.5 billion of $11.1 billion upon which Cuba had defaulted through 1986 plus charges.[1]

These creditor nations known as the Club of Paris are the following: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Under the 2015 agreement, Cuba agreed for the first time to grant the creditors equity in development projects, in areas like manufacturing and agriculture, in exchange for a portion of their debt holdings. Many of these restructuring agreements include the establishment of so-called counter-value funds, under which a percentage of debt is discounted in exchange for the potential profits stemming from participation by a creditor country’s firms in Cuba joint-development projects.

The counter-value funds have an estimated combined value of around $750 million of the $2.6 billion owed. Japan, Spain, France and Italy – Cuba’s largest Paris Club creditors – are furthest along in negotiating swaps.

  • For example, a $46 million French project to develop cattle ranching and dairy products in central Camaguey province is ready to sign, according to France’s ambassador to Cuba, Jean-Marie Bruno.
  • Another example is Spain which has a project ready to manufacture cardboard and another aluminium structures for construction capable of resisting earthquakes and hurricanes, both involving Spanish companies.

This access to Cuban development projects gives the European countries and companies an advantage over U.S. companies who are banned by various U.S. laws from such projects.

This payment happened during dire economic times for Cuba due to the political and economic crisis in its ally Venezuela, declines in Cuban exports and tourism due, in part, to the damages caused by Hurricane Irma.

Cuba’s payment in these circumstances showed the importance Cuba attaches to the 2015 agreement with this group of major creditor nations.

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[1] Reuters, Cash-Strapped Cuba Makes Debt Payment to Major Creditors-Diplomats, N.Y. Times (Oct. 18, 2017); Chow, Cuba Reaches Deal to Pay $2.6 Billion in Arrears to Paris Club, W.S.J. (Dec. 12, 2015); Paris Club, Agreement on the Debt Between Cuba and the Group of Creditors of Cuba (Dec. 12, 2015).