Roberto Jesús Quiñones, a contributor to the independent Cuban news website CubaNet, has a history of harassment by Cuban authorities. He is barred from leaving the country and has been detained several times. 
Most Recent Cuban Charges Against Journalist
The most recent Cuban persecution of Quiñones started on April 18, 2019, when police agents forcefully took him off of a bus, brought him to a police station, and interrogated him, with an officer telling him “we are taking note of your articles.”
Three days later (April 21) he was arrested outside of the Guantánamo Municipal Tribunal, where he was covering the trial of two Cuban evangelical pastors facing charges for homeschooling their children. While the police took him to the police station, he was beaten, injuring his mouth, tongue, and right thumb and causing an inflammation in his right ear.
When he was released from jail five days later, Cuban authorities initiated a new proceeding against him, alleging that his conduct during his detention constituted “resistance” and “disobedience,” for which they imposed a fine, which he refused to pay.
This refusal to pay the fine lead to a trial in a municipal court and to its August 7th sentencing Quiñones, to one year in a labor camp on charges of “resistance” and “disobedience.” His appeal to another court for a new trial was denied on August 19.
After the most recent detention of Quiñones, the Committee to Protect Journalist’s Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick said, “The ongoing pattern of detentions of independent journalistslike Roberto Jesús Quiñones shows that recent political reforms have not improved the situation for the press. If President Miguel Díaz-Canel wants to show the world that his government is committed to positive change in Cuba, authorities should immediately free Quiñones without charge and stop harassing journalists.”
The one-year sentence also drew this rebuke from the Committee’s Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in New York. “The fact that Roberto Quiñones is sentenced to prison for failing to pay a fine, while the police agents who beat and detained him for days receive no punishment, is outrageous. If authorities in Cuba want to convey an image of progress and openness to the international community, mistreating, jailing, and fining a journalist sends the wrong message.”
Secretary Pompeo’s Reaction
All of this prompted U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on August 21 to issue a statement condemning the journalist’s prosecution and calling “upon the Cuban regime to immediately release Mr. Quinones and to cease their abuse and mistreatment.” Pompeo also said his “detention and trial were marked by the flagrant disregard for legal norms that are typical of the Cuban regime. Cuban authorities did not inform Quinones of the charges against him until minutes before the trial, and did not permit him legal representation in the courtroom. The regime’s prosecutors did not permit Quinones to present evidence of his injuries at the hands of the police who arrested him. Adding cruelty to injustice, regime officials have refused to allow Quinones to visit his ailing father.”
Pompeo concluded with these words. “Sadly, this is just one more example of the Cuban regime’s ongoing violation of human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and to fair trial guarantees. We will continue to use targeted sanctions and trade restrictions to cut off resources from the Cuban regime, which uses its income to repress its own people, and to prop up the Maduro regime in Venezuela.”
On January 17, Senator Jeff Flake delivered another speech on the Senate floor that lambasted President Donald Trump, this time for his “fake news” tweets and comments. This speech was a sequel to the Senator’s October 24, 2017, speech and Washington Post article rejecting the President’s character and actions. Here is a photograph of the Senator giving the speech.
Senator Flake’s Speech
Near “the beginning of the document that made us free, our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” So, from our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth. The founders were visionary in this regard, understanding well that good faith and shared facts between the governed and the government would be the very basis of this ongoing idea of America.”
“As the distinguished former member of this body, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, famously said: ]Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” During the past year, I am alarmed to say that Senator Moynihan’s proposition has likely been tested more severely than at any time in our history.”
“It is for that reason that I rise today, to talk about the truth, and its relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, . . . our democracy will not last.”
“2017 was a year which saw the truth – objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine ‘alternative facts’ into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. ‘The enemy of the people,’ was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.”
It “is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader.”
“This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward – despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him ‘fake news,’ it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.”
“I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of ‘fake news’ are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of U.S. based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.”
According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 journalists were killed in 2017, and a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on ‘false news” ‘charges.”
So “powerful is the presidency that the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth will not be confined to the president’s time in office. Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful – in fact, we question the powerful most ardently – to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship — and so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality.”
“No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the truth to his own purposes should be made to realize the mistake and be held to account. That is our job here. And that is just as Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have it.”
“Of course, a major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don’t.”
“No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. . . . An “American president who cannot take criticism – who must constantly deflect and distort and distract – who must find someone else to blame — is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.”
“Now, we are told via twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the ‘most corrupt and dishonest’ media awards. It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.”
“And so, 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple. And in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.”
“Together, united in the purpose to do our jobs under the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us resolve to be allies of the truth — and not partners in its destruction.”
“It is not my purpose here to inventory all of the official untruths of the past year. But a brief survey is in order. Some untruths are trivial – such as the bizarre contention regarding the crowd size at last year’s inaugural.”
?But many untruths are not at all trivial – such as the seminal untruth of the president’s political career – the oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama. Also not trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate – to the effort to undermine confidence in the federal courts, federal law enforcement, the intelligence community and the free press, to perhaps the most vexing untruth of all – the supposed “hoax” at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.”
“To be very clear, to call the Russia matter a ‘hoax’ – as the president has many times – is a falsehood. We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security. It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter, wherever the investigation leads.”
“Ignoring or denying the truth about hostile Russian intentions toward the United States leaves us vulnerable to further attacks. We are told by our intelligence agencies that those attacks are ongoing, yet it has recently been reported that there has not been a single cabinet-level meeting regarding Russian interference and how to defend America against these attacks. Not one. What might seem like a casual and routine untruth – so casual and routine that it has by now become the white noise of Washington – is in fact a serious lapse in the defense of our country.”
The impulses underlying the dissemination of such untruths are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated.”
Every “word that a president utters projects American values around the world. The values of free expression and a reverence for the free press have been our global hallmark, for it is our ability to freely air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps a people free. Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler. And so, respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most important exports. . . . “
“This feedback loop [from foreign leaders] is disgraceful. . . . Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. This is reprehensible.”
“We are not in a ‘fake news’ era, , , , We are, rather, in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere.”
“In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be cause for profound alarm, and spur to action. Add to that the by-now predictable habit of calling true things false, and false things true, and we have a recipe for disaster. As George Orwell warned, ‘The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.’”
“Any of us who have spent time in public life have endured news coverage we felt was jaded or unfair. But in our positions, to employ even idle threats to use laws or regulations to stifle criticism is corrosive to our democratic institutions. Simply put: it is the press’s obligation to uncover the truth about power. It is the people’s right to criticize their government. And it is our job to take it.”
“What is the goal of laying siege to the truth? President John F. Kennedy, in a stirring speech on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, was eloquent in answer to that question:
‘We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.’”
The “question of why the truth is now under such assault may well be for historians to determine. But for those who cherish American constitutional democracy, what matters is the effect on America and her people and her standing in an increasingly unstable world — made all the more unstable by these very fabrications. What matters is the daily disassembling of our democratic institutions.”
“We are a mature democracy – it is well past time that we stop excusing or ignoring – or worse, endorsing — these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.”
“I will close by borrowing the words of an early adherent to my faith that I find has special resonance at this moment. His name was John Jacques, and as a young missionary in England he contemplated the question: “’What is truth’” His search was expressed in poetry and ultimately in a hymn that I grew up with, titled ‘Oh Say, What is Truth. It ends as follows:
‘Then say, what is truth? ‘Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o’er.
Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst.
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal… unchanged… evermore.’”
The same day as Senator Flake’s speech, Arizona’s other Republican Senator, John McCain, published an op-ed article in the Washington Post with similar criticisms of President Trump. This commentary reminded us of McCain’s criticism of Congress’ ignoring regular procedures over the so-called “repeal and replace” Obama Care bill when McCain killed the bill with his negative vote.
President Trump’s response to these criticisms first came from his Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, who said, Senator Flake was “not criticizing the president because he’s against oppression. He’s criticizing the president because he has terrible poll numbers and he is, I think, looking for some attention.” Note the ad hominem response and refusal to grapple with the merits.
Later that night the President on Twitter also ignored the substance of these criticisms when he announced his “fake news” awards to CNN (four times); The New York Times (two times); and ABC, The Washington Post, Time and Newsweek (one time each).
All of these comments reminded me of the struggle between the Washington Post and the Nixon White House over the publication of the Pentagon Papers and the work that is involved in publishing real news, all of which is skillfully portrayed in the current movie, “The Post.”
I commend Senators Flake and McCain for standing up for true American values in their criticisms of the President.
The international Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that Cuba currently has arrested and jailed without charges two print journalists.
They are Manuel Guerra Pérez, director of the independent bulletin Cimarrón de Mayabeque, and its editor, Lisbey Lora, who were arrested and detained on November 28, 2016. They were in the process of investigating for articles for their publication, which is part of the network of independent, local publications supported by the Cuban Institute for Free Expression and the Press. Guerra Pérez reported on local issues, including politics, corruption, and health conditions in the Cuban province of Mayabeque.
Earlier this year, September 28, CPJ issued a special report on Cuba that concluded, “Cuba’s press, emboldened by President Raúl Castro’s call for reforms in 2010, are finding more space for critical comment, but harassment and intimidation from authorities, a legal limbo caused by outdated and restrictive press laws, and limited and expensive access to the internet is slowing the island nation’s progress toward press freedom.”
This earlier report coincided with CPJ’s annual report listing Cuba as 10th on its list of the 10 worst censored countries in the world.
On May 26, a United Nations committee rejected, 10 to 6, an application for accreditation to attend U.N. meetings from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international, independent group that monitors attacks on journalists around the world and campaigns for the release of those who are jailed.
The 10 negative votes came from Cuba along with Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sudan and Venezuela. The yes votes came from Greece, Guinea, Israel, Mauritania, the United States and Uruguay. The abstentions were by India, Iran and Turkey, the latter two having reputations for persecuting journalists.
At the committee meeting U.S. Ambassador Sarah Mendelson made a lengthy statement advocating accreditation for CPJ, which, she said, is “a reputable non-governmental organization that promotes press freedom worldwide and defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal.” Such a group has shown that “a free press remains a critical foundation for prosperous, open, and secure societies, allowing citizens to access information and hold their governments accountable. Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reiterates the fundamental principle that every person has the right ‘to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’”
Afterwards the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, said, “It is increasingly clear that the NGO committee acts more and more like an anti-NGO committee.” She also said that the U.S. would appeal the committee’s decision to the full 54-member U.N. Economic and Social Council.
CPJ stated, “It is sad that the U.N., which has taken up the issue of press freedom through Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and through the adoption of the U.N. Action Plan, has denied accreditation to CPJ, which has deep and useful knowledge that could inform decision making. A small group of countries with poor press freedom records are using bureaucratic delaying tactics to sabotage and undermine any efforts that call their own abusive policies into high relief.”
This April CPJ’s annual report ranked Cuba 10th on its list of the 10 Most Censored Countries. Key for this ranking was Cuba’s having “the most restricted climate for press freedom in the Americas. The print and broadcast media are wholly controlled by the one-party Communist state, which has been in power for more than half a century and, by law, must be ‘in accordance with the goals of the socialist society.'” In addition, CPJ stated, “The government continues to target critical journalists through harassment, surveillance, and short-term detentions.”
On April 27, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released its annual report on the status of press freedom in the world. It ranked Cuba 10th on its list of the 10 Most Censored Countries. Here is what it said about Cuba.
“How censorship works: Despite significant improvements in the past few years-such as the elimination of exit visas that had prohibited most foreign travel for decades-Cuba continues to have the most restricted climate for press freedom in the Americas. The print and broadcast media are wholly controlled by the one-party Communist state, which has been in power for more than half a century and, by law, must be “in accordance with the goals of the socialist society.” Although the Internet has opened up some space for critical reporting, service providers are ordered to block objectionable content. Independent journalists and bloggers who work online use websites that are hosted overseas and must go to foreign embassies or hotels to upload content and get an unfiltered connection to the Internet. These critical blogs and online news platforms are largely inaccessible to the average Cuban, who still has not benefited from a high-speed Internet connection financed by Venezuela. Most Cubans do not have Internet at home. The government continues to target critical journalists through harassment, surveillance, and short-term detentions. Juliet Michelena Díaz, a contributor to a network of local citizen journalists, was imprisoned for seven months on anti-state charges after photographing an incident between residents and police in Havana. She was later declared innocent and freed. Visas for international journalists are granted selectively by officials.”
“Lowlight: Though the government has for the most part done away with long-term detentions of journalists, author-turned-critical blogger Ángel Santiesteban Prats has been imprisoned since February 2013 on allegations of domestic violence. The writer and other local independent journalists maintain that he was targeted in retaliation for writing critically about the government on his blog, Los Hijos que Nadie Quiso (The Children Nobody Wanted.)”
CPJ “is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. We defend the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal.” The organization “is made up of about 40 experts around the world, with headquarters in New York City. When press freedom violations occur, CPJ mobilizes a network of correspondents who report and take action on behalf of those targeted. CPJ reports on violations in repressive countries, conflict zones, and established democracies alike. A board of prominent journalists from around the world helps guide CPJ’s activities.”
A prior post reviewed the pending bills in this Session of Congress that support U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. Now we look at the 16 pending bills and resolutions opposing U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, all but two of which have had no substantive action taken by either chamber. Details on these measures are available on the Library of Congress’ THOMAS website.
Three of them—H.R.1782, S.1388 and H.R.2466—seek to impose preconditions for seeking normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and thereby attack a major premise of the Administration’s current efforts regarding Cuba: for over 50 years the U.S. has failed to obtain Cuban reforms through imposing preconditions and sanctions.
The other 13 pending measures are less threatening to the Administration’s ongoing efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.
Improved Cuban Human Rights as Precondition for Reconciliation
The major premise of the Administration’s new approach to Cuba is attacked by H.R.1782 “Cuba Human Rights Act of 2015” authored by Rep. Christopher Smith (Rep., NJ) with 12 cosponsors. Until Cuba ceases violating the human rights of its citizens, the bill, among other things, would prohibit any changes in the U.S. relationship with Cuba and require the U.S. to oppose Cuban membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which in turn referred it to its subcommittees on the Western Hemisphere and on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. No substantive action on the bill has been taken by that Committee and said subcommittees.
Less intrusive on the Administration’s approach to Cuba on human rights is S.Res.152 “A resolution recognizing threats to freedom of the press and expression around the world and reaffirming freedom of the press as a priority in efforts of the United States Government to promote democracy and good governance.” It condemns actions around the world that suppress freedom of the press and reaffirms the centrality of freedom of the press to U.S. efforts to support democracy, mitigate conflict, and promote good governance. A preamble references a Freedom House report that ranked Cuba as one of the countries having the worst obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights among countries and territories rated by Freedom House as “Not Free.” More recently the Committee to Protect Journalists leveled another criticism of press freedom in Cuba. The resolution was offered by Senator Robert Casey, Jr. (Dem., PA) and was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which has not yet taken any action on the matter.
Plan for Resolving U.S. Claims for Expropriated Property as Precondition for Reconciliation
Two pending bills relate to Cuba’s expropriation of property of U.S. nationals without compensation in violation of international law. Resolution of U.S. claims for money damages for such acts clearly is an important subject for direct discussions with the Cuban government in the first instance. As discussed in a prior post, those claims are currently estimated to total at least $7.0 billion.
Although I am not privy to how the U.S. Government intends to proceed on such claims, that prior post anticipated an inability to resolve these claims through direct negotiations and, therefore, suggested that the U.S. submit such claims to the Permanent Court of Arbitration along with all other U.S. claims for money damages against the Cuban government and that Cuba similarly submit all of its claims for money damages against the U.S. government. Moreover, that prior post pointed out that any consideration of U.S. claims for money damages against the Cuban government has to recognize that Cuba does not have the financial resources to pay a large sum of money.
S.1388: “A bill to require the President to submit a plan for resolving all outstanding claims relating to property confiscated by the Government of Cuba before taking action to ease restrictions on travel to or trade with Cuba, and for other purposes.” This bill legitimately recognizes that such claims are important for the U.S. and need to be resolved, but in this blogger’s opinion, this bill unwisely makes a plan for resolution a precondition for proceeding with reconciliation. On the other hand, the bill does not require actual resolution of the claims as a precondition so maybe the bill is not as threatening to reconciliation as might first appear. The bill is authored by Senators Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) and David Vitter (Rep., LA) with 11 cosponsors. It was introduced on May 19th and referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which has not taken any action on the bill. Senator Rubio, however, referred to this bill at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing about Cuba on May 20th.
The companion bill in the House with the same title is H.R.2466 introduced on May 20th by Rep. Thomas Rooney (Rep., FL) with no cosponsors. It was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which has not yet taken any action on the bill.
Limits on Certain Trademarks Expropriated by Cuba
Cuba’s expropriation of property owned by U.S. nationals without compensation, in some instances, included trademarks. Therefore, such trademarks need to be included in the previously mentioned U.S. claims against Cuba.
This subject is addressed by S.757 “No Stolen Trademarks Honored in America Act, ” which would prohibit U.S. courts from recognizing, enforcing, or otherwise validating, under certain circumstances, any assertion of rights by a designated Cuban national of a mark, trade name, or commercial name that was used in connection with a business or assets that were confiscated by the Cuban government. The bill is authored by Senator Bill Nelson (Dem., FL) with 2 cosponsors and was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, which has not taken any action on the bill.
The companion bill with the same title in the House (H.R.1627) was authored by Rep. Darrell Issa (Rep., CA) with 10 cosponsors. It was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, which in turn referred the bill to its Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet. Neither that Committee nor the Subcommittee has taken any action on the bill.
These bills on trademarks are less troublesome, in this blogger’s opinion, and could provide an interim measure of relief until resolution of the U.S. claims for expropriated property.
Seeking Extradition of U.S. Fugitives from Cuba
Two pending congressional measures relate to fugitives from U.S. justice in Cuba. The U.S.’ seeking Cuba’s extradition of them has been recognized by the Obama Administration as an important subject for negotiations with Cuba. Indeed, some such discussions already have occurred, and further discussions are to take place. However, as discussed in a prior post, existing extradition treaties between the U.S. and Cuba provide each country the right to not grant extradition if it determines that the offense in the other country is of a “political character,” and Cuba has invoked that provision to deny previous U.S. requests for extradition of some of the most notorious U.S. fugitives.
H.R.2189 “ Walter Patterson and Werner Foerster Justice and Extradition Act” was authored by Rep. Christopher Smith (Rep., NJ) with 3 cosponsors. It would require the president to submit an annual report to Congress regarding U.S. efforts to obtain extradition of fugitives from U.S. justice. One of the proposed findings of the bill states, “The refusal of Cuba to extradite or otherwise render Joanne Chesimard, an escaped convict who fled to Cuba after killing Werner Foerster, New Jersey State Trooper, is a deplorable example of a failure to extradite or otherwise render, and has caused ongoing suffering and stress to Mr. Foerster’s surviving family and friends.” The bill was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which has not taken any action on the bill.
H.Res.181 “Calling for the immediate extradition or rendering to the United States of convicted felon William Morales and all other fugitives from justice who are receiving safe harbor in Cuba in order to escape prosecution or confinement for criminal offenses committed in the United States.” It was authored by Rep. Peter King (Rep., NY) with 15 cosponsors and was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which in turn referred the bill to the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. Neither body has taken any action on the proposed resolution.
The above bill (H.R. 2189) does not interfere with the Administration’s efforts to pursue reconciliation with Cuba as the bill implicitly recognizes that the U.S. may seek, but not compel, extradition. A prior post reported that the U.S. has made several requests over the years for the extradition of Joanne Chesimard (a/k/a Assata Shakur) and that Cuba had rejected such requests on the ground that her offenses in the U.S. were of a “political character.” Anticipating that Cuba would continue to reject such requests, the prior post recommended submitting disputes over extradition to the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The proposed resolution is merely a call by Congress for such extradition.
Various Measures Regarding U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
As discussed in a prior post, the U.S. has leased Guantanamo Bay from Cuba since 1903, and since September 11, 2001, one of the U.S. uses of that territory has been to house, interrogate and make adjudications of detainees from other countries. Since President Obama took office in 2009, he has sought to end the use of Guantanamo Bay for such detentions. Moreover, Cuba has made it known that it wants to have the U.S. leave Guantanamo Bay and return the territory to Cuba. Another prior post examined whether Cuba had a legal right to terminate the lease and recommended submission of any unresolved conflicts over this territory to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
There has been considerable congressional opposition to ending the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay and to ending the lease and returning the territory to Cuba. This is seen in the following six pending measures in this Session of Congress.
Ban on U.S. Abandoning Lease of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This is the intent of H.R.654 “Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Protection Act” authored by Rep. David Jolly (Rep., FL) with 56 cosponsors. It would bar the U.S. from modifying, terminating, abandoning, or transferring said lease. It was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which has not taken any action on the bill. This bill would limit the Administration’s discretion in negotiations over Guantanamo with Cuba, including obtaining a new lease with significantly higher rental fees.
Ban on Transferring Guantanamo Bay Detainees to Other U.S. Facilities. Senator Kelly Ayotte (Rep., NH) with 27 cosponsors submitted S.165: “Detaining Terrorists to Protect America Act of 2015.” It was referred to the Senate Committee on Armed Services, which on February 12thapproved the bill with an amendment in the nature of a substitute that would prohibit (i) the construction or modification of any U.S. facility to house certain individuals detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as of October 1, 2009; (ii) the transfer or release of certain detainees at Guantanamo Bay to other U.S. facilities and foreign countries; and (iii) judicial review of certain claims by said detainees. On 23rd February it was placed on the Senate’s Legislative Calendar.
The companion bill with the same title in the House (H.R.401) was authored by Rep. Jackie Walorski (Rep., IN) with 38 cosponsors. It was referred to the House Committee on Armed Services, which has not taken any action on the bill.
Neither of these bills about transfer of detainees would have direct adverse effects on U.S. reconciliation efforts although it could complicate any negotiations over Guantanamo with Cuba.
Ban on Aid to Certain Countries That Accept Transfer of Guantanamo Bay Detainees. S.778: “Guantanamo Bay Recidivism Prevention Act of 2015” would prohibit certain assistance for five years to a foreign country if: (1) the country received an individual who was released or transferred from Guantanamo Bay on or after February 1, 2015; and (2) after the date of such release or transfer, the individual is included in a report of individuals confirmed or suspected of returning to terrorist activities. The bill is authored by Senator Tom Cotton (Rep., AR) with 4 cosponsors and was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which has not taken any action on the bill.
The companion bill in the House (H.R.1689) “To prohibit the provision of certain foreign assistance to countries receiving certain detainees transferred from United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba” was authored by Rep. Ron DeSantis (Rep., FL) with 6 cosponsors. It was referred to the House Committee on foreign Affairs, which has not taken any action on the bill. Neither of these bills about foreign assistance would adversely affect U.S. negotiations with Cuba.
Fund for Constructing and Improving Guantanamo Bay Detention Facilities. S.Con.Res.11 establishes the congressional budget for the federal government for FY 2016. S.Amdt.664 to this Concurrent Resolution was offered by Senator Tom Cotton (Rep., AR) to establish a reserve fund for constructing or improving detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. On March 27th this amendment was ruled out of order.
Continuation of Radio Marti and Television Marti.
H.R.2323 “United States International Communications Reform Act of 2015” would reform the U.S. government agencies responsible for international communications, but in section 124(b) would not affect Radio Marti and Television Marti. The bill was offered by Rep. Edward Royce (Rep., CA) with 14 cosponsors. It was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which on May 21st reported it with amendments to the full House.
This bill could be a minor irritant on advancing reconciliation as Cuba consistently has objected to these services.
Imposing Sanctions on North Korea.
This is the subject of H.R.204 “North Korea Sanctions and Diplomatic Nonrecognition Act of 2015,” which was authored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Rep., FL) with 17 cosponsors and was referred to the House committees on Ways and Means and on Foreign Affairs, the latter of which referred the bill to its Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. No action on the bill has been taken by either committee or by the subcommittee.
This bill is mentioned here for two reasons. First, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American, is a vigorous opponent of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation and conceivably would find ways to use the bill to oppose U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. Second, the bill’s proposed findings refer to the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.N. Security Council’s imposition of sanctions on North Korean shipping companies for attempting to import a concealed shipment of arms and related material from Cuba and to the U.S. telling the Security Council that Cuba had participated in a “cynical, outrageous and illegal attempt” to circumvent U.N. sanctions and had made “false claims” about the shipment.
U.S. citizens who support U.S.-Cuba reconciliation should contact their Senators and representatives in Congress to urge them to oppose the above measures, especially those–H.R.1782, S.1388 and H.R.2466— that would impose preconditions for such reconciliation.
A subsequent post will examine pending authorization and appropriation measures that relate to Cuba.
On April 21st the Committee To Protect Journalists ranked Cuba as having the 10th most censored press in the world.  The following is its statement about Cuba:
“Despite significant improvements in the past few years-such as the elimination of exit visas that had prohibited most foreign travel for decades-Cuba continues to have the most restricted climate for press freedom in the Americas. The print and broadcast media are wholly controlled by the one-party Communist state, which has been in power for more than half a century and, by law, must be “in accordance with the goals of the socialist society.” Although the Internet has opened up some space for critical reporting, service providers are ordered to block objectionable content. Independent journalists and bloggers who work online use websites that are hosted overseas and must go to foreign embassies or hotels to upload content and get an unfiltered connection to the Internet. These critical blogs and online news platforms are largely inaccessible to the average Cuban, who still has not benefited from a high-speed Internet connection financed by Venezuela. Most Cubans do not have Internet at home. The government continues to target critical journalists through harassment, surveillance, and short-term detentions. Juliet Michelena Díaz, a contributor to a network of local citizen journalists, was imprisoned for seven months on anti-state charges after photographing an incident between residents and police in Havana. She was later declared innocent and freed. Visas for international journalists are granted selectively by officials.”
“Though the government has for the most part done away with long-term detentions of journalists, author-turned-critical blogger Ángel Santiesteban Prats has been imprisoned since February 2013 on allegations of domestic violence. The writer and other local independent journalists maintain that he was targeted in retaliation for writing critically about the government on his blog, Los Hijos que Nadie Quiso (The Children Nobody Wanted).”
The Committee’s List is based upon its “research, as well as the expertise of the organization’s staff, . . . [with respect to] the absence of privately owned or independent media, blocking of websites, restrictions on electronic recording and dissemination, license requirements to conduct journalism, restrictions on journalists’ movements, monitoring of journalists by authorities, jamming of foreign broadcasts, and blocking of foreign correspondents.”
These issues about freedom of the press in Cuba should be part of the U.S.-Cuba discussions about Cuban human rights that were covered in an earlier post about the U.S. Department of State’s report about Cuba’s human rights record for 2013 and that will be covered in the soon-to-be-released Department’s report for 2014.
On June 14, 2013, Ecuador’s national legislature adopted the Organic Law on Communications with the following provisions that threaten freedom of the press:
Prohibition of “media lynching,” which is defined as “a concerted effort, coordinated by several media or carried out by just one, to destroy a person’s honor or prestige.”
Establishment of “everyone’s right that information of public interest received through the media should be verified, balanced, contextualized and opportune” without defining those terms.
Establishment of media’s responsibility to accept and promote obedience to the Constitution, the laws and the legitimate decisions of public authorities.
Creation of the office of Superintendent of Information and Communication with the power to regulate the news media, investigate possible violations and impose potentially large fines.
Creation of the Council for Media Regulation and Development headed by a representative of the President with the power to exact a public apology (and impose fines for repeat offenses) when media fail to accord someone the right to a correction or the right of reply.
Retention of the system of “cadenas,” or official messages which all over-the-air TV and radio stations have to broadcast that the President and the National Assembly speaker may use whenever they think it necessary and that other public office holders may use for five minutes per week.
Another provision on the surface may appear to be non-controversial: a requirement for allocation of broadcast frequencies (state, 34%; private, 33%; and community, 33%). Currently an estimated 60% are privately owned. Therefore, this requirement is seen as a means of the government’s closing privately owned media, presumably those critical of the government.
Other provisions of the new law are more benign. It prohibits any form of censorship by government officials or civil servants, guarantees the right of journalists to protect their sources and to maintain professional confidentiality.
This new law was strenuously challenged by the Ecuadorian legislators opposing the law, who said it will allow the government to control media through loosely defined regulations. (To the right is a photo of the objecting legislators with signs and masks over their mouths.)
The law was defended by its author who is a member of President Correa’s political party and who said it will “protect freedom of speech with a focus on everybody’s rights, not just for a group of privileged.” Another member of that party who is the president of the legislature predicted that the law would promote more balanced news coverage.
In his TV and radio speech to the country on June 15th President Correa said that law was a precedent that other Latin American countries would follow. Critics of the law, he said, were members of the “gallada” or club that opposes any regulation of the media.
This is not the first effort by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to restrict the media. Such prior attempts have been protested by the previously mentioned NGO’s, the U.S. Department of State in its annual human rights reports and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The Commission’s criticisms have caused Ecuador to launch a full-scale attack on the Commission that was not successful this last past March, but that Ecuador promises to keep pursuing.
A prior post discussed the March 22, 2013, resolution by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) that strengthened the Inter-American Human Rights System, especially the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“Commission”).
In so doing, the OAS rejected efforts to weaken the Commission under the guise of reform proposals that had been offered by Ecuador and other states that the Commission has criticized (Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua).
We now examine the background to that surreptitious effort to weaken that System and the debate at the March 22nd General Assembly meeting
1. Multilateral Treaties and Other Instruments Regarding the Right of Free Expression.
The right of free expression by the media and others is well established in international law.
The United Nation’s General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 in Article 19 states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” In 1966 this was put into legally enforceable form in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which entered into force in 1976.
To like effect is the American Convention on Human Rights, which was adopted by the OAS in 1969 and which entered into force in 1978. Its Article 13(1) says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression . . . [including the] freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one’s choice.” Article 13(3) goes on to say, “The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information, or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.”
Ecuador under the presidency of Rafael Correa since January 2007 has through policies and actions retaliated against journalists and media that have criticized him and his government. Correa has insulted and filed lawsuits against reporters and news outlets and promoted a series of legal measures to roll back press freedoms. His government has expropriated television channels, radio stations, newspapers and magazines.
Journalists in the country also have been subjected to physical threats and assaults with lackluster efforts by the government to investigate and prosecute those responsible.
3. The Commission and Civil Society’s Criticism of Ecuador’s Hostility to Freedom of Expression.
The Commission in 1997 created the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression “to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system and in protecting, guaranteeing, and promoting other human rights.”
This Rapporteur has been in the forefront of criticizing Ecuador for these actions against journalists and the media. Since January 1, 2009 it has issued nine press releases expressing its concern over specific criminal prosecutions and imprisonments of journalists for libel for publication of articles about corruption of public officials and for specific physical threats and assaults on journalists.
In addition, since 2006 the annual reports of the Rapporteur have had sections specifically addressing Ecuador’s conduct in this area.
For example, the latest such report (for 2011) devotes 31 pages (78-108) for a detailed, footnoted review of Ecuador’s assaults and attacks on media and journalists; legal proceedings and arrests (the “Rapporteur is concerned about the consistent tendency of high-ranking public officials to rebuke, arrest, and prosecute citizens who criticize them at public events”); presidential broadcasts and government interruptions of news programs; disparaging statements by senior state authorities against media outlets and reporters critical of the government; constitutional amendment and legislative proposals to regulate the content of all media, establish the grounds for liability and the applicable sanctions and serve as an authority on enforcement; and cloture and regulation of communications media.
Such actions also have subjected the country to similar criticism by the U.N. Human Rights Council in its Universal Periodic Review of Ecuador in the summer of 2012. One of the Council’s closing recommendations in that Review was for Ecuador to reform its legislation regarding freedom of expression with a view to bringing it in conformity with international standards and those of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In response Ecuador said that it could not agree to reform its legal framework in accordance with standards from the Commission, when it is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, not the Commission, which has judicial competency over this matter. Nor could Ecuador, it said, eliminate laws that criminalize opinion since it had no such laws.
4. Ecuador’s Campaign for Its Proposed “Reforms” of the Commission.
In response to the Special Rapporteur’s persistent and documented criticism of Ecuador, the country developed a set of proposals to “reform” the Commission. Prominent in this package were reduction in funding (and hence the work) of the Special Rapporteur and elimination of his separate annual report.
In early 2013 Ecuador conducted a lobbying campaign in support of these proposals. Its Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, went on a tour of Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Venezuela to promote them. He also advocated them at a meeting of the Political Council of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA)  and at a March 11th meeting in Guayaquil, Ecuador of the 24 states that were parties to the American Convention on Human Rights.
The latter event was opened by a long speech by Ecuadorian President Correa, who emphasized that the Commission should have its headquarters in a state that has ratified said Convention (not Washington, D.C.); that the Commission should have its own budget provided only by state parties to the Convention (without voluntary contributions by outsiders like the U.S., Canadian and European governments and NGO’s); that the Commission should not be “autonomous” and instead be controlled by said states parties; the abolition of the Commission’s rules authorizing its issuance of precautionary measures; having the Commission focus on general promotion of human rights, not investigating and deciding on alleged violations of human rights; and elimination of the separate annual report of the Special Rapporteur for Free Expression and instead including such a report in a comprehensive report for all of the rapporteurships.
The Ecuador meeting resulted in the Declaration of Guayaquil whereby the 24 states parties agreed that at the March 22nd meeting of the OAS General Assembly they would support the following: a group of their foreign ministers would press the U.S., Canada and other non-parties to the Convention to ratify or accede to same; the Commission would be refocused on promotion of human rights through national systems; financing of the Commission would be increased by states parties and by “neutral” others; all rapporteurships would be treated equally; an analysis of the costs of the OAS Human Rights System would be obtained; the Commission’s headquarters would be moved to a state party; and annual conferences about reforming the System would be held.
Opposition to such proposals came forward from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who urged the OAS members “to strengthen its exemplary human rights system, by promoting universal access for citizens . . ., respecting the Commission’s autonomy to progressively improve its policy and practices in response to the needs of victims and concerns of member states, and providing the necessary resources [to the System].” Similar concerns were voiced by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, a group of 98 prominent Latin Americans and a coalition of 700 hemispheric human rights organizations.
Another opponent of Ecuador’s campaign was Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, a former president of Colombia and past secretary general of the OAS. He said that the so called “reforms” of the Commission put forward by Ecuador would “severely weaken the [C]omission and make it easier for governments to ignore basic rights and limit free speech.” They would “drastically curtail [the Commission’s] autonomy” and put a “financial stranglehold” on its operations, including a “devastating impact” on the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. 
The March 22nd OAS General Assembly Meeting
In opening remarks that day, the OAS Secretary General, Jose Miguel Insulza from Chile, stressed that the autonomy of the System needed to be maintained. He also said that strengthening some of the Commission’s rapporteurships “cannot mean that others are weakened” and that the Special Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression should be strengthened “with a program of ample defense of [such] freedom . . . . ” This would include “issues relating to the curtailment of that freedom by public authorities . . . as well as the threats and crimes to which journalists and the social media are increasingly subjected in our region and the obligation of states to protect them.”
Similar remarks were made by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, William J. Burns. He noted that even though the U.S. was not a party to the American Convention on Human Rights, the U.S. still collaborates with the Commission when it challenges the U.S. on such issues as the death penalty, the human rights of migrants and children and the status of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He added, “We must be vigilant against efforts to weaken the Commission under the guise of reform. [Such efforts] . . . seek to undermine the Commission’s ability to hold governments accountable when they erode democratic checks and balances and concentrate power through illiberal manipulation of democratic processes.”
Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Patino in his remarks accused the opposition and the media of distorting his government’s proposals. He also accused the Commission of improperly assuming the power to issue precautionary measures. Its decisions were independent, he said, but the Commission was not autonomous. He rhetorically asked, the Commission is autonomous and independent of whom? Sotto voce, a Spanish journalist answered, “You,” causing laughter by those around the journalist.
The resolution adopted by acclamation at the midnight conclusion of the March 22nd meeting already has been discussed. It clearly did not adopt all of the items in Ecuador’s package.
This resolution emerged after a long day in which the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Chile lead the opposition to the proposals from Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. A Human Rights Watch observer said, “It was a resounding victory for the Commission, and a major defeat for the Venezuela-Ecuador bloc. It became evident that [the latter] . . . were totally isolated, without the support they were expecting from other countries.”
Towards the end of the meeting Ecuador and Bolivia threatened to withdraw from the Commission and leave the meeting. To avoid such a rupture, Argentina offered a face-saving amendment to the resolution about the OAS’ Permanent Council continuing the dialogue on the “core aspects for strengthening” the System, which Ecuador and the other ALBA countries ultimately accepted.
Afterwards Ecuador’s Foreign Minister tried to whitewash his country’s defeat by saying that the resolution accepted its proposal to continue the debate in the future. Before the next meeting of the OAS General Assembly in June 2014, the Foreign Minister said that there would be another meeting of the states parties to the American Convention like the one on March 11th in Guayaquil to discuss these issues. He also hinted at Ecuador’s possible withdrawal from the OAS Commission by saying there was an agreement being negotiated to create a Human Rights Commission of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
Unless there are unexpected changes in regimes or policies in this Hemisphere over the next 14 months, I do not expect Ecuador and its allies will be successful at the June 2014 OAS meeting in gaining acceptance of its proposals to weaken the Inter-American Commission. We will then see if this small group will leave that Commission and form its own, more limited, human rights system.
ALBA is an alternative to the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas. differing from the latter in that it advocates a socially-oriented trade block rather than one strictly based on the logic of deregulated profit maximization. The only members of ALBA are Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and three small Caribbean states (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
 Such a limitation on financing undoubtedly would result in a reduction of such funding and thus on the work of the Commission.
 I assume that Ecuador has another burden to overcome in attempting to win support for its “reform” proposals. Its credibility within the OAS, I suspect, has been adversely affected by its recent exaggerated, alarmist call for an OAS Consultative Meeting of Foreign Ministers over the alleged United Kingdom threat to invade Ecuador’s London Embassy because of its providing diplomatic asylum in that Embassy to Julian Assange.