Change of charge d’affaires of U.S. Embassy in Cuba 

On August 1, there was a change of the charge d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Leaving that position was Mara Tekach,  a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. Her successor is Timothy Zuñiga-Brown, another career foreign service officer, who will have to deal with a reduced embassy staff and unsolved issues, such as the suspension of visa processing and the family reunification program. [1]

Here is an account of some of Tekach’s recent comments.[2]

On her last day in this position, she delivered to the Cuban government a diplomatic note complaining about the state of human rights on the island. She said Cuba did not deserve a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland; instead it deserved censuring by that body. (On August 5, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made the same plea, saying, “It’s outrageous that the Human Rights Council would offer to seat Cuba, a brutal dictatorship that traffic its own doctors under the guise of humanitarian missions. No country should vote Cuba onto the Council.”[3])

“While its leaders enjoy expensive yachts and watches, the Cuban people queue for hours to try to get food and medicine. Any country in the world can send supplies to the island, but they never reach the people,”

“The regime needs to democratize,” Tekach said. It is “fomenting destabilization abroad” and has established a “parasitic relationship built around all kinds of nefarious arrangements” with the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela. “These things have to end.”

During her time in Havana, she was a vocal critic of the Cuban government. She visited political prisoners and dissidents and met with activists around the island. Tekach said “it was important to raise awareness on the island of the repression. And I was very focused on bringing this to the attention of the international community.” I was convinced “that the regime would not tolerate a single free thought among its people.”

Under her leadership, the embassy’s social media accounts engaged in campaigns to criticize the Cuban government’s medical missions and the country’s human-rights record. The government responded by showing on television images of her meeting with dissidents and accusing her of “recruiting mercenaries.”

For example, on July 4, 2020, she gave a speech at the Embassy dedicated to “all of the independent voices of Cuba – past and present. . . . May they never be silenced. May they continue to be heard. . . . Cuba’s countless independent voices dream and strive for a better future. You shall not be forgotten.  We will continue to amplify your voices.”

And on July 21, 2020, she issued a statement on the Embassy’s website about Cuban medical missions that focused on the claims that the Cuban medical personnel are not paid fair compensation for their services on these missions. [2]

Tekach said the disagreements never stopped her from communicating with Cuban officials and working on issues like the repatriation flights organized after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted travel. But she noted that “it was not a friendly relationship.”

Tekach will remain influential in Cuban policy as the new coordinator of the State Department’s Office of Cuban Affairs.

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[1] Torres, ‘It wasn’t a friendly relationship.’ Former top diplomat in Havana talks about U.S.-Cuba relations, Miami Herald (Aug. 5, 2020); ‘Do not be fooled by the Cuban regime,’ asks Mara Tekach when leaving office, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 7, 2020).

[2] U.S. Embassy (Cuba), Remarks by U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Mara Tekach (July 4, 2020); U.S. Embassy (Cuba), Statement from Chargé d’Affaires Mara Tekach The Truth about Cuban Medical Missions (July 21, 2020).

[3] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo At a Press Availability (Aug. 5, 2020); Washington urges UN countries to deny Havana a seat on the Human rights Council, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 6, 2020).

 

Cuba and U.S. Debate Cuba’s Treatment of José Daniel Ferrer

On March 11, the U.S. State Department released its latest annual report on human rights around the world. A previous post discussed some of the details of that criticism while another post looked at the limited positive comments in that report. Now we examine the report’s criticism of Cuba’s treatment of José Daniel Ferrer after a review of what previous posts have set forth on that subject followed by a review of more recent events.

Previous Posts’ Discussion of Ferrer[1]

As the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), which has criticized the Cuban government for a long time, Ferrer has had many conflicts with the Cuban government. The most recent started on October 1, 2019, with his arrest and detention for allegedly kidnapping and beating a fellow Cuban (Sergio Garcia) and with an October 17th rejection of Ferrer’s plea for a writ of habeas corpus.

On October 18, 2019, the State Department publicly condemned this arrest and detention as part of an escalating “wave of repression against freedoms of speech, expression, and religion” and demanded his immediate release from detention.

On November 20, 2019, an editorial in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, alleged that Ferrer was in detention because he was “a salaried agent of the United States, with a long history of provocative actions, disruption of public order, and violations of the law” and that the U.S. Embassy in Havana and Chargé d’ Affaires Mara Tekach had been “the fundamental . . . [instrument  for the] orientation, and financing of . . . Ferrer’s conduct, clearly interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, openly inciting violence, promoting the disruption of order and contempt for the law by this citizen. . . .”[2]

That same day, UNPACU said this editorial was “a complete manipulation of the judicial process against” Ferrer by asserting “two fundamental lies, first, it locates the process of searching for freedom and universal rights of the Cuban people under the authorship of the United States Government, and, second, it states that . . .Ferrer is a salaried agent of the service of United States, with a violent trajectory.” [3]Instead, UNPACU stated the following:

  • The “demonstrations of popular discontent against the Cuban regime, which we can see daily thanks to the internet’s social networks, are a direct consequence of 60 years of communist government of the single party that deprives them of fundamental rights and freedoms to Cuban citizens. What translates into a permanent state of material and spiritual crisis, which from time to time reaches critical levels like the current one. It is worth asking the Cuban regime if the two 2.5 million citizens that they recognized who did not agree with the new constitution [and voted against it in the referendum], were also cared for, guided and financed by the United States Embassy in Cuba. The Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy, ​​Mara Teckach.”
  • “Our organization receives help without imposition from various foreign institutions that promote values ​​such as democracy, freedom, the rule of law and the division between the powers of the State, without which it is impossible for a Government to guarantee and respect human rights. With the help we receive, we do not buy weapons, bombs, or terrorism. With that help we buy printers and sheets to print thousands of copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and distribute them among the population.”
  • “With regard to the slander against José Daniel Ferrer, we can say that in his case and in that of the Patriotic Union of Cuba there is no record of activism during these years of activism against any member of the repressive bodies of the Cuban State.”
  • “During this time [60 days of unjust imprisonment of Ferrer and three of his colleagues] we have published several testimonies of people who demonstrate the pressure exerted by members of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) against activists and neighbors of the community of Mármol, where the main headquarters of UNPACU is located, to raise false charges against him. We have even alerted the use by the State Security of agents that we have expelled from our ranks for being at their service, to make false accusations.”
  • “Other evidence of the political police maneuvers in the case is that the wife of the alleged accuser declared through a phone call that we made public, that her husband suffered a traffic accident and that the police were pressing him very insistently to who said that the injuries contracted in the accident had been caused by . . . [Ferrer].. Also, the sister of Roilán Zárraga Ferrer, one of the activists detained with José Daniel, publicly stated that his brother communicated to him on a recent visit to the Center for Criminal Instruction in Santiago de Cuba, where he is being held, that they are pressuring him to sign a false statement against José Daniel.”
  • “Among the serious violations that occurred in this case, the conditions of confinement of the detainees are of great concern, as well as the torture, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment to which . . .Ferrer is being subjected, as confirmed by his wife on a recent visit to the Aguadores prison in Santiago de Cuba, after 34 days of being kept missing.”

The U.S. State Department on November 22 vehemently denied the Cuban government’s charges and said “these baseless accusations . . . [were] an attempt to distract the international community from its abysmal treatment of the Cuban people, especially the ongoing arbitrary detention of  . . Ferrer.”

Cuba, however, on November 26, returned to this attack on the U.S. and Ferrer in an open letter from Cuba’s Ambassador to the EU to the latter’s Parliament asserting that the U.S. and its diplomatic mission in Cuba have been “guiding, instigating and financing the violent and destabilizing behavior of Ferrer” while intending “to fabricate the image of [him as] a persecuted and mistreated” political dissident. The Cuban Ambassador also denied allegations of subsequent Cuban jail mistreatment of Ferrer as “lies . . . deliberately conceived and guided by the United States Government and its Embassy in Havana.”

The next day (November 27) on Cuban national television the Cuban government alleged that Ferrer that year had received $50,000 form the U.S. Government via the Miami-based Cuban-American National Foundation and showed a video of him banging his head against a metal table.

These Cuban allegations, however, did not persuade the EU Parliament, which on November 28 adopted a resolution condemning Ferrer’s arbitrary detention and torture and demanding his immediate release.

On January 30, 2020, Ferrer’s wife and children were permitted to visit him in prison, when he appeared to be very thin and told his wife that he had not been receiving any medical attention. In addition, the prison did not allow him to eat food and take medicines brought by his wife.

On February 24, Secretary Pompeo sent an open letter to Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Edwardo Rodriguez Parrilla demanding the immediate release of Ferrer. This letter stated the following:

  • “Cuban human rights defender Jose Daniel Ferrer has endured more than 100 days of unjust imprisonment and repeatedly has been dragged, chained, beaten, and burned at the hands of the regime, which you represent.  The United States government joins a chorus of international voices demanding Ferrer’s immediate release.  The European Parliament, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, Amnesty International, and journalists and human rights organizations from countries across the globe have condemned your regime’s treatment of Ferrer and other human rights defenders like him.”
  • “This is not the first time your regime has targeted Ferrer.  He was imprisoned from 2003 until 2011 for advocating for democracy and respect for human rights in Cuba.”
  • “The current spurious charges against Ferrer follow a familiar pattern of harassment, violence, and arbitrary arrests against Cubans who seek only to advocate for democracy and the political and economic freedoms that would enable the Cuban people to create prosperity in Cuba.  It cannot be a crime to criticize policies that have set Cuba’s development tumbling backwards for the past 61 years.”
  • “The United States will never forget the brave Cubans who put their lives on the line for the sake of a free Cuba.  Until there is democracy and respect for human rights in Cuba and all political prisoners are freed, the United States will continue to hold the regime accountable for its abuses.  For the sake of the Cuban people and for the betterment of your nation, we urge you to free Jose Daniel Ferrer immediately.”
  • On February 26, 2020, Ferrer was put on trial in Santiago de Cuba for the alleged crimes of injury, deprivation of liberty to third parties and attack. According to the Cuban Prisoners Defenders (CPD), the court did not permit any of the witnesses at this 12-hour trial to utter the words “opponents, dissidents, political police, State Security, headquarters, UNPACU, regime, dictatorship, dictators and illegal.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Comments About the New U.S. Human Rights Report                 and Ferrer[4]

The Secretary’s comments upon the release of the report included the following:  “The name Jose Daniel Ferrer appears 17 times in this report.  He’s one of thousands of political prisoners who, over the years, have been dragged, chained, and beaten at the hands of the [Cuban] regime. Tomorrow (March 12) he will be sentenced by a Cuban court.” (Emphasis added.)

The New Report’s Discussion of Ferrer[5]

The Executive Summary of the report on Cuba stated the following:

  • “On February 24, the country adopted a new constitution in a coerced referendum marred by violent government repression against those that opposed the proposed constitution. On February 12, for example, 200 police and security agents raided the homes of leaders of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) [which is headed by José Daniel Ferrer] for openly campaigning against the draft constitution, detaining and reportedly beating UNPACU members. Other opponents reported that the government had blocked their email and texts to keep them from disseminating opposition campaign materials. Article 5 of the constitution enshrines one-party rule by the CCP, disallowing for additional political expression outside of that structure. Although the new constitution adds explicit protections of freedom and human rights, including habeas corpus, authorities did not respect them, nor did the courts enforce them.” (Emphases added.)

In addition, the report had the following references to the persecution of José Daniel Ferrer:

  • Authorities “detained UNPACU leader Jose Daniel Ferrer several times during the year. He was often held for several days at a time incommunicado or without being charged in court. Although uniformed security officials were present for his arrest, authorities denied having him in their custody (see also sections 1.d. and 2.d.). On October 1, police detained him for almost six weeks before allowing his family to see him and did not announce charges against him until November 15, 45 days after his disappearance. In the interim, authorities rejected writs of habeas corpus filed by his wife. As of December, Jose Daniel Ferrer remained in custody.” (Section 1.B) (Emphases added.)
  • “When authorities did allow Nelva Ismarays Ortega Tamayo, the wife of Jose Daniel Ferrer . . ., to visit him in prison, she found him emaciated with signs of repeated physical torture. He was reportedly unable to lift his arms and recounted daily psychological trauma inflicted at the instruction of his jailers.” (Section 1.C) (Emphasis added.)
  • “On August 27, authorities detained UNPACU leader Jose Daniel Ferrer in connection with a fabricated murder case from 2018. He was previously detained in August 2018 in Santiago de Cuba for 12 days and charged with attempted murder following a car accident in which he hit and injured an official in Palmarito del Cauto. There were reports the official intentionally jumped in front of the vehicle Ferrer was driving, resulting in minor injuries to the official. Despite reported coercion of witnesses, police could not obtain corroborating evidence against Ferrer, and the prosecution was forced eventually to release him. Police, however, continued to use the case as justification for detaining him.” (Emphases added.) Prison officials refused to consider pleas from Ferrer’s wife to consider his failing health or accept medicine she brought to the prison for him, and they banned her from further visits to the facility. On November 15, the government provided her a copy of the charges filed against Ferrer on October 7. As of December 3, Ferrer still had not received access to a lawyer, and a trial date had not been set. (Section 1.D) (Emphases added.)
  • “In connection with a planned march on September 8, several UNPACU activists were arbitrarily detained on September 7. On September 8, immediately after leaving his house with several supporters, Ferrer and other supporters were arrested (see section 2.b. for more information). On October 1, he was arrested again, this time on different charges that he was involved in a physical assault of an UNPACU member. The charges were likely fabricated, due to testimony from multiple individuals that the alleged victim left UNPACU headquarters unharmed and testimony from the alleged victim’s wife that the injuries were sustained in a motorcycle accident. A separate activist said she was threatened with prison if she did not sign a false statement implicating Ferrer in the alleged crime. (Section 1.D) (Emphases added.)
  • Ferrer was held incommunicado for 72 hours before authorities acknowledged he was in custody, and they denied his wife access to him. Several days later, she was finally allowed access to him and received permission to send him a change of clothes, but not medication to tend to his chronic medical condition. On October 18, after not seeing him for more than two weeks, she filed a writ of habeas corpus stating Ferrer’s family did not know his whereabouts or if he was still alive, and that they had not been informed of charges filed against him or been given the opportunity to provide a lawyer to represent him. The court ruled against the petition, claiming that charges were brought on October 3 and formally filed October 7, without stating his location or the charges against him.” (Section 1.D) (Emphases added.)
  • “On October 25, still without access to her husband for herself or her lawyers, and still without knowing the public charges, Ferrer’s wife and his three minor children demonstrated against her husband’s mistreatment in a public park in Santiago de Cuba; security officials arrested all individuals. On November 7, she was allowed a five-minute supervised visit with him–the first proof she had received in more than one month that Ferrer was still alive. He described extremely punishing treatment he received at the hands of his jailers, who chained him hand and feet, offered him only spoiled food and foul water, and held him with a known violent criminal who said he was offered privileges in exchange for beating Ferrer (which he did regularly).” (Section 1.D) (Emphases added.)
  • “Prison officials refused to consider pleas from Ferrer’s wife to consider his failing health or accept medicine she brought to the prison for him, and they banned her from further visits to the facility. On November 15, the government provided her a copy of the charges filed against Ferrer on October 7. As of December 3, Ferrer still had not received access to a lawyer, and a trial date had not been set.” (Section 1.D.) (Emphases added.)
  • On “September 6-7, the internet access of several UNPACU members was suspended ahead of a planned march, and on October 3, the government suspended the internet access of UNPACU national committee member Katherine Mojena Hernandez after she repeatedly tweeted about a government crackdown on the group. (Section 2.D) (Emphases added.)

Subsequent Developments[6]

Although, as Secretary Pompeo stated, Ferrer’s sentencing was scheduled for March 12, it did not happen, but was postponed to March 14. This delay prompted UNPACU to release the following statement on social media:

  • “The sentence against José Daniel Ferrer will not be issued by an impartial Court, but by the Cuban regime, which probably already has his sentence from the moment of his unjust arrest more than five months ago.”
  • “If there were in Cuba a system with guarantees for its citizens, both José Daniel Ferrer and the other three activists would have been acquitted on the day of the manipulated trial of which they were victims, because with evidence it was shown that all the accusations were part of an orchestrated theater by the political police. “
  • “The UNPACU dismisses the sentence that will be delivered, because it is the product of a perverse dictatorship that for fear and hatred represses and imprisons those who courageously oppose them peacefully, such as José Daniel Ferrer García.”

On March 14, there was still no sentencing. Thus, on March 17,  Ferrer’s teenage son went to the court to demand an explanation for the delay in the sentencing, but was told that the court would not receive anyone. Now it is March 19, and there still is no announcement of the sentencing, which, whenever it comes, will be the subject of a future post.

Conclusion

Given the hostile rhetoric and actions of the Trump Administration against Cuba, it seems exceedingly unlikely that the two parties could peaceably negotiate an end to this dispute over the charges against Ferrer. If there were some country or person who had the trust of both sides, perhaps that country or person could act as a mediator to try to resolve the conflict. Or the two countries could arbitrate this (along with many other) disputes before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.[7] Otherwise, this dispute just adds to the stack of such disputes.

An independent U.S. source (Cuba Money Project) quotes the previously mentioned UNPACU acknowledgement of receiving support from “various foreign institutions that promote values such as democracy, freedom, the rule of law and the separation of powers of state, without which it is impossible for a government to guarantee and respect human rights.” The Project then states that the Cuban American National Foundation on a 2016 U.S. federal tax form reported that it gave $99,431 to UNPACU.

In addition, this Project recently reported the following two other U.S.-financed efforts to promote democracy in Cuba:

  • First, the U.S. government-financed National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in 2019 managed Cuba projects worth $5,411,535.50 for organizations other than UNPACU and another $565,964.50 going to undisclosed organizations.[8]
  • Second, the U.S. Embassy in Havana has announced plans to award grants to Cuban NGOs, institutions and individuals to strengthen Cuba’s independent civil society’s “professional ties” with the U.S. Although there was no announcement of the total amount of such grants or the number of such grants, it did say that they would be at least $10,000 each.[9]

These U.S. programs that were uncovered by the Cuba Money Project provide support for the previously mentioned allegations of Granma’s November 2019 editorial. While the purpose of these U.S. programs sounds good to the ears of U.S. citizens, it is easy to understand why that is not so for the Cuban government.

Ideally the two governments should discuss, negotiate and agree on the details of any such programs. We were headed in that direction during the last 25 months of the Obama Administration.

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[1] Among the many posts about Ferrer, see these posts in dwkcommentaries.com: Secretary Pompeo Demands Release of Cuban Dissident  (Feb. 27, 2020)(and previous posts and comments cited in footnote 2); José Daniel Ferrer Tried for Common Crime in Cuba (Feb. 28, 2020).

[2] Cuba Accuses U.S. of Using Ferrer Case To Try to Discredit Cuba, dwkcommentareis.com (Nov. 21, 2019).

[3] Response of the Patriotic Union of Cuba to the article in the Granma newspaper about José Daniel Ferrer, unpacu.org/en (Nov. 20, 2019).

[4] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo on the Release of the 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Mar. 11, 2020); Jakes, Critics Hear Political Tone as Pompeo Calls Out Diplomatic Rivals Over Human Rights, N.Y. Times (Mar. 11, 2020).

[5] State Dep’t, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba (Mar. 11, 2020).

[6] The regime postpones the sentence against José Daniel Ferrer, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 12, 2020); The authorities still do not reveal the sentence against José Daniel Ferrer, Diario de Cuba (Mar. 17, 2020).

[7] See Proposed Resolution of U.S.-Cuba Issues, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 31, 2019).

[8] Eaton, Dissident’s arrest triggers debate over funding, Cuba Money Project (Dec. 7, 2019); Eaton, NED kept secret more than a half million dollars in Cuba projects, Cuba Money Project (Jan. 2, 2020). The Cuba Money Project was started and is operated by Tracey Eaton, a U.S. journalist and former Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News; it aims to report stories about U.S. government programs and projects related to Cuba.

[9] Eaton, Public diplomacy or interference?, Cuba Money Project (Feb. 1, 2020); U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Education & Culture: Annual Program Statement. (undated).