More Hostile Comments About Cuba from U.S. Vice President Pence and U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States  

As discussed in a previous post, harsh rhetoric about Cuba recently has come from the lips of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and the new U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Carlos Trujillo. Now there has been more such rhetoric.

Vice President Pence[1]

On May 2, the Vice President at his Ceremonial Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, conducted the swearing-in of  Carlos Trujillo, a Cuban-American, as the new U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States. In his remarks, the Vice President said, “In Cuba, the Castro name may be fading, but its legacy of tyranny lives on and hangs over that country like a cloud, darkening the future of all who call that island home.”

On May 7, the Vice President appeared at a Special Meeting of the Permanent Council of OAS at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. and said the following about Cuba:

  • “In Cuba, the longest-surviving dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere still clings to power.  For nearly 60 years, the Castro family systematically sapped the wealth of a great nation and of the Cuban people.  While the Castro name is now fading, the oppression and police state they imposed is as powerful as ever.”
  • “Today, the United States once again stands with the Cuban people in their stand for freedom.  No longer will our dollars fund Cuba’s military, security, and intelligence services — the core of that regime.  And in this administration, we will stand and we will always say, ‘Que Viva Cuba Libre.’”
  • “But Cuba’s leaders have never been content to stifle just their own people’s freedom.  For generations, that communist regime has sought to export its failed ideology across the wider region.  And today, the seeds of Cuban tyranny are bearing fruit in Nicaragua and Venezuela.”

The main topic of his address, however, was the announcement of new U.S. measures against Cuba’s major ally, Venezuela:  imposing financial sanctions on three Venezuelans; providing $2.5 million to help Venezuelans temporarily living in Colombia; and demanding Venezuela’s president to open the country to international aid. In addition, Pence demanded that the country suspend what he called a fraudulent election later this month and called for the other OAS members “to cut off Venezuela’s corrupt leaders from laundering money through your financial systems;” “to enact visa restrictions that prevent Venezuela’s leaders from entering your nations;” “to hold [President] Maduro accountable for destroying Venezuela’s democracy;” and to vote to suspend Venezuela from the OAS.

Ambassador Trujilo[2]

At his May 2 swearing-in, Ambassador Trujillo criticized President Obama’s being in Cuba in 2016 “shaking hands, eating hotdogs, and celebrating a baseball game with a dictator who tortured and imprisoned political prisoners and dissidents throughout many years.” The new Permanent Representative concluded by saying, “I look forward to working diligently with that resolve and never wavering until Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Western Hemisphere is free and able to enjoy the liberties and democracies that we all celebrate.” (Emphasis added.)

On Sunday, May 6, on Univision, Trujillo said that “Raul Castro should be tried for his crimes against human rights” and that he hopes for the OAS , and for other agencies, that these trials will be held.” These comments were supported by a spokesman for the International Justice Commission of Cuba, which is composed of civil rights activists from 10 countries.

Cuba’s Response[3]

The Cuban response was provided on May 7 by its  Foreign Ministry’s Director General for the United States,  Fernandez de Cossio. He rejected what he called “aggressive and false” statements by Vice President Pence at the OAS meeting. Indeed, Pence  allegedly lied when he claimed that the U.S. has a long-standing commitment on the continent to democracy and freedom and that the U.S. supports the Cuban people. Moreover, the U.S. has intensified the blockade (embargo) of the island, aimed at stifling its economy and people while the OAS Is “known for its support for the most horrendous crimes on the continent, ranging from coups and brutal dictatorships to assassinations, torture and disappearances.”

Minister Fernandez continued. Vice President Pence does not realize that Latin America is different and that the U.S. policies will fail. Cuba will continue to build an independent, sovereign, socialist, democratic and sustainable country, and will also continue to support the construction of our America in solidarity and respectful of the diversity of peoples.

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

[1] White House, Remarks by vice President Pence at Swearing-In Ceremony of Carlos Trujillo as U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (May 2, 2018); White House, Remarks by Vice President Mike Pence During a Protocolary Meeting at the Organization of American States (May 7, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Hits 3 Venezuelans, 20 Companies, With Sanctions, N.Y. Times (May 7, 2018).

[2]  White House, Remarks by vice President Pence at Swearing-In Ceremony of Carlos Trujillo as U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (May 2, 2018); Carlos Trujillo: Raúl Castro must be tried for his crimes against human rights, Diario de Cuba (May 7, 2018).

[3] The MINREX qualifies Pence’s statements as ‘aggressive and false,’ Diario de Cuba (May 6, 2018); Cuba rejects aggressive speech by Mike Pence, vice president of the United States, CubaDebate (May 7, 2018).

Signs of Possible Increased U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba

A recent post discussed challenges about Cuba facing the Trump Administration this April: President Trump’s attendance at the Summit of the Americas in Peru and the U.S. reaction to Cuba’s election of the new President of the Council of State.

Recent developments have added to the apprehension that these and other events may be occasions for more U.S. hostility towards Cuba.

Future U.S. Actions Regarding the Summit of the Americas[1]

In a letter last week to the Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Rick Scott, Florida Governor and rumored U.S. Senate candidate this year, called for the exclusion of Cuba at the upcoming Summit. This request was due to the “oppression and misery” that the Cuban people have suffered for more than 60 years. “For six decades, the sovereignty of the Cuban people has been taken hostage by a brutal dictatorship that has imprisoned, tortured and murdered innocent people to preserve their regime.”

Another reason for such exclusion, according to Scott, was the recent electoral process on the island as a “fraudulent effort to carry out the so-called elections as the dictatorship moves towards a dynastic succession.” In short, “Obama’s policy is a tragedy for the Cuban people, and a top priority for America’s next President to reverse.”

The Governor’s request was reiterated by the Cuban Resistance Assembly and anticipated this last February by Freedom House’s Director Carlos Ponce when he said that Castro’s attendance at the 2015 Summit in Panama was “a great spectacle that did not represent an advance in democracy and human rights on the island.” In fact, it included the regime sending “violent groups to threaten  and persecute the Cuban leaders of civil society who participated.”

Future U.S. Reaction to Election of New President of Cuba

In addition to Governor Scott’s criticism of this year’s Cuban electoral process, the previous post about challenges to the Trump Administration mentioned that on March 9 Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and five Florida Republican U.S. Representatives 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.”

On March 14, Congressman Curbelo added this statement for his reasons for such criticism: “It’s  clear the Cuban people are ready for a new beginning. Now more than ever they need the support and solidarity of the American people, the American government and its diplomats, and all freedom loving people throughout the world. Given the absence of free, fair, multiparty elections this past weekend, I continue to urge President Trump to declare Raul Castro’s successor as illegitimate.”[2]

New Officials in Trump Administration

 President Trump has nominated or appointed two officials who have a history of hostility towards Cuba–Mike Pompeo and John Bolton– while another appointee, Carlos Trujillo, may hold such views.

Secretary of State Nominee Mike Pompeo[3]

President Trump has nominated Mike Pompeo, the current Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as the next Secretary of State, a position that requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

In 2015, when Pompeo was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he co-sponsored a bill, the Cuban Military Transparency Act, to prevent any U.S. financial transaction with companies managed by the Cuban military that did not become law, but was implemented last year by a President Trump executive order.

In June 2017 Pompeo and Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) met at CIA headquarters with several members of the Brigade 2506, which is a CIA-sponsored group of Cuban exiles formed in 1960 to attempt the military overthrow of the Cuban government headed by Fidel Castro and which in 1961 carried out the abortive Bay of Pigs Invasion landings.

John Bolton, National Security ‘Advisor[4]

On March 23 President Trump appointed as his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, who over many years consistently has been hostile to U.S.-Cuba normalization. Here are examples of his views on this subject:

  • As Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, Bolton in 2002 accused Cuba of developing biological weapons in collaboration with U.S. adversaries and said Cuba remained a “terrorist” threat to the U.S. Bolton’s disputed claims were shown to be baseless in the 2004 National Intelligence Estimate, which found that while Cuba had the technical capability to produce biological agents, there was no evidence of any biological weapons development.
  • Bolton criticized the rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S. in December 2014, calling the decision to pursue normalized relations “an unmitigated defeat for the United States.”
  • In July 2015, just after the U.S. decided to resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba, he published an article saying that this decision “untethered our foreign policy from any discernible American interests.”  In short, Bolton said, “Obama’s policy is a tragedy for the Cuban people, and a top priority for America’s next President to reverse.”

Unsurprisingly Senator Marco Rubio applauded the appointment of Bolton as “an excellent choice.”

Cuba immediately responded in Granma, saying  Bolton  had “a very dark past in relation to Cuba” with strong ties to “the ultra-right of Cuban origin in Florida.” This appointment “comes in the midst of a new campaign against Cuba in which pretexts and evidence have been used without scientific evidence to justify unilateral measures that affect hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the [Caribbean] and hinder the exchange on issues of mutual interest.”

New U.S. Ambassador to OAS[5]

Last week the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Carlos Trujillo as the new U.S. Ambassador to OAS. I have not discovered Trujillo’s views about U.S. policy towards Cuba and the OAS relationship with the island, but given his background and support by Senator Rubio, I suspect that he too is hostile towards the Cuban government.

Conference at Florida International University[6]

Recently Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., participated in a conference at the Florida International University in Miami that was organized by Senator Rubio and some of his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives.One of the topics of the meeting was how to improve democracy in Cuba and Venezuela. Before the meeting, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart said, “The Castro regime continues its decades-long oppression of the Cuban people, while providing illicit support to other sham regimes in the region, including those in Venezuela and Nicaragua.  By promoting democracy, civil society and human rights in our hemisphere, we promote stability and prosperity among our neighbors, and strengthen friendships with allies.”

New U.S. Federal Government Budget[7]

The budget approved by the United States Congress last week, which will allow government financing until mid-2018, includes $ 20 million for promotion of democracy in Cuba, scholarships to promote leadership among young Cubans and improving Cuba’s access to the internet. Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, says these are funds to “promote a supposed regime change in Cuba.”

On the other hand, Congress did not adopt a proposed amendment to the budget that would have restricted funding for the U.S. Embassy in Havana to pre-Obama Administration levels. This congressional rejection was applauded by Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba. It said, “By eliminating this senseless budget provision, Congress has averted a foreign relations debacle that would have upended progress on law enforcement cooperation, migration, and commercial ties. We commend the bipartisan majority of lawmakers that fought to preserve our diplomatic engagement with Cuba. Slashing embassy funding would hurt Cuban Americans and the Cuban people, and turn back the clock to a discredited counter-productive Cold War policy that failed for over 55 years.”

Conclusion

Although not surprising, these developments are unfortunate for those of us who advocate for increased normalization between the two countries. We must continue to be vigilant in resisting any and all Trump Administration hostility towards Cuba.

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

[1] Rick Scott asks the OAS to exclude Raúl Castro from the Summit of the Americas, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 24, 2018).

[2] Press Release, Curbelo: Following Another Empty Voting Exercise on the Island, the Cuban People Need Support and Solidarity (Mar. 14, 2018).

[3] Falćon, Foreign Policy of the United States: the extremists circle closes, CubaDebate (Mar. 26, 2018); CIA, The Bay of Pigs Invasion; Brigade 2506, Wikipedia.

[4] Bolton, Obama’s outrageous Cuba capitulations, N.Y. Daily News (July 13, 2015); Center for Democracy in Americas, Cuba Central News Brief: 3/23/18; The regime complains of a possible worsening of relations with Washington after the appointment of Bolton, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 24, 2018).

[5] The Senate confirms Carlos Trujillo as US ambassador to the OAS, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 23, 2018); Press Release, Rubio Welcomes Confirmation of Carlos Trujillo to Serve as U.S. Ambassador to OAS (Mar. 23, 2018).

[6] Press Release, Diaz-Balart, South Florida Members of Congress Host Ambassador Haley for Latin American State of Affairs Discussion (Mar. 2, 2018).

[7] Washington releases funds for subversion in Cuba and border wall in Mexico, Granma (Mar. 25, 2018); Press Release, Engage Cuba Applauds Defeat of Budget Provision to Slash Funding for U.S. Embassy in Havana (Mar. 23, 2018).