United States-Cuba Bilateral Commission Meets To Review Normalization Status                                                                                                

On May 16, in Havana the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission held its third meeting to review the status of the countries’ efforts to normalize relations. The U.S. delegation was headed by Ambassador Kristie Kenney, currently serving as Counselor of the Department of State, who was assisted by John S. Creamer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State; and by U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy, Havana, Cuba. The Cuban delegation’s head was Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, the Director General of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of the United States.[1]

Before the meeting the U.S. State Department said it “will provide an opportunity to review progress on a number of shared priorities since the last Bilateral Commission meeting in November 2015, including progress made during the President’s historic trip to Cuba in March. The United States and Cuba expect to plan continued engagements on environmental protection, agriculture, law enforcement, health, migration, civil aviation, direct mail, maritime and port security, educational and cultural exchanges, telecommunications, trafficking in persons, regulatory issues, human rights, and claims for the remainder of 2016.”

Director General Vidal’s Press Conference

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At a press conference after the meeting, Director General Vidal said the meeting had been “productive” and conducted in a “professional climate of mutual respect.” (A photograph of Vidal at the press conference is on the left.) The parties agreed to hold the fourth meeting of the Bilateral Commission in September 2016 in Washington, D.C.

Vidal also said she had told the U.S. delegation that Cuba reiterates its “appreciation for the positive results from President Obama’s visit to Cuba” that had been mentioned by President Raúl Castro during Obama’s visit. Indeed, she said, Cuba believes this visit is “a further step in the process towards improving relations” between the two countries and “can serve as an impetus to further advance this process.”[2]

Vidal acknowledged that there has been an increase in official visits as well as technical meetings on topics of common interest resulting in nine bilateral agreements to expand beneficial cooperation.[3]

According to Vidal, both delegations agreed on steps that will improve relations, including conducting high-level visits and technical exchanges on environmental, hydrography, and implementation and enforcement of the law, including fighting trafficking in drugs and people, and immigration fraud. The two countries also are getting ready to conclude new agreements to cooperate in areas such as health, agriculture, meteorology, seismology, terrestrial protected areas, response to oil-spill pollution, fighting drug trafficking and search and rescue, among others. They also are ready to start a dialogue on intellectual property and continue those relating to climate change and regulations in force in the two countries in the economic and trade area.

However, Vidal said, progress has not been as fast in the economic area because “the blockade [embargo] remains in force” despite the positive measures taken by President Obama to loosen U.S. restrictions. There still are significant U.S. restrictions on U.S. exports to Cuba and imports from Cuba. In addition, U.S. investments in Cuba are not allowed except in telecommunications, and there are no normal banking relations between the two countries. Therefore, Cuba stressed again the priority of the “lifting the economic, commercial and financial blockade [embargo].”

More specifically Vidal said Cuba had told the U.S. representative that in the last six months two American companies and one French company had been fined by the U.S. for maintaining links with Cuba while Cuba has had problems with 13 international banks’ closing accounts, denying money transfers or suspending all operations with Cuba. In addition, six service providers have ceased providing services to Cuban embassies and consulates in third countries (Turkey, Austria, Namibia and Canada).

In addition, the Cuban delegation, said Vidal, had reaffirmed the need for the U.S. to return to Cuba the territory [allegedly] illegally occupied by the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo. It “is the only case of a military base in the world that is based in a territory leased in perpetuity, which is an anomaly from the point of view of international law.[4] There is no similar example in the world and is the only instance of a military base in a foreign country against the will of the government and people of that country.

Vidal also mentioned the following U.S. policies and actions that needed to be changed:

  • the U.S. preferential migration policies for Cuban citizens, expressed in the existence of the policy of dry feet/wet feet;
  • the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act regarding those immigration policies;
  • the U.S. program of parole for Cuban health professionals;
  • the special U.S. radio and television broadcasts designed especially for Cuba (Radio and TV Marti); and
  • U.S. programs designed to bring about changes in the economic, political and social system of Cuba.[5]

These U.S. policies, according to Vidal, underscored “a huge contradiction” for the U.S. On the one hand, President Obama said in his speech in Cuba that the U.S. has neither the intention nor the ability to bring about change in Cuba and that in any case it was up to the people of Cuba to make their own decisions. On the other hand, the U.S. has programs with huge budgets ($20 million dollars every year) aimed at bringing about such change. If indeed there is neither the intention nor the ability to bring about change in Cuba, then there is no reason to have such programs.

Normalization, said Vidal, also needs to have protection of rights to trademarks and patents because there are Cuban companies owning well-known marks, which for reasons of the blockade and other reasons have been taken away from the Cubans.

Before the meeting, another Cuban Foreign Ministry official said that the parties previously had discussed, but not negotiated, with respect to Cuba’s claim for damages with respect to the U.S. embargo and the U.S. claims for compensation for property expropriated by the Cuban government. At the meeting itself, according to a Cuban statement, the Cubans had delivered a list of its most recent alleged damages from the blockade (embargo).

U.S. Embassy Statement

The U.S. Embassy in Havana after this Bilateral Commission meeting issued a shorter, but similar, statement about the “respectful and productive” discussions. “Both governments recognized significant steps made toward greater cooperation in environmental protection, civil aviation, direct mail, maritime and port security, health, agriculture, educational and cultural exchanges, and regulatory issues. The parties also discussed dialogues on human rights and claims, and the [U.S.] looks forward to holding these meetings in the near future.”

Conclusion

Since the actual meeting was conducted in secret, it is difficult to assess what was actually accomplished except through officials’ subsequent public comments.

On May 17, the two countries conducted their second Law Enforcement Dialogue, which will be discussed in a subsequent post.

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[1] U.S. Department of State, United States and Cuba to Hold Third Bilateral Commission Meeting in Havana, Cuba (May 12, 2016); Gomez, MINREX: relations between Cuba and the United States would advance more nonblocking, Granma (May 12, 2016); Reuters, Cuba and U.S. Officials to Meet Next Week to Deepen Detente, N.Y. Times (May 12, 2016); Francisco & Elizalde, Cuba-US Bilateral commission: a productive meeting, Josefina Vidal  (+ Photos and Video), CubaDebate (May 16, 2016); Assoc. Press, Top Cuba Diplomat: Obama Trip Positive, Created Momentum, N.Y. Times (May 16, 2016); Reuters, Cuba and United States Draw Up Roadmap for Talks to Deepen Détente, N.Y. Times (May 16, 2016); Gomez, Cuba and the United States defines ambitious agenda for the coming months, Granma (May 16, 2016); U.S. Embassy, Havana, Cuba, Third Bilateral Commission Meeting in Havana (May 16, 2016); Press release issued by the Cuban delegation to the Third Meeting of the Cuba-U.S. Bilateral Commission, Granma (May 17, 2016); Cuba and U.S. set ambitious agenda for coming months, CubaDebate (May 17, 2016).

[2] Vidal’s positive comment about Obama’s visit is in sharp contrast to the negative comments about the visit from Vidal’s superior, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at the recent Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. (See Conclusion of Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (April 20, 2016).)

[3] Beforehand an official of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said that since the December 2014 announcement of détente the parties had signed nine agreements covering the environment, email, navigation safety, agriculture and travel. In addition, the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) had signed agreements with three U.S. companies for cellular roaming in Cuba; a U.S. company (Starwood) had an agreement to manage several Cuban hotels; and the Carnival cruise lines had made a maiden voyage to the island.

[4] The U.S., however, contends that the lease is not in perpetuity, but for so long as the U.S. uses it as a “naval station.” This is one of the potential issues to be resolved in an international arbitration as suggested in a previous post. (Does Cuba Have a Right To Terminate the U.S. Lease of Guantanamo Bay? dwkcommentaries.com (April 26, 2015).)

[5] Prior posts have concurred in the Cuban requests for ending all of these U.S. programs and policies. See Topical List of Posts—Cuba.

U.S. Supreme Court Comments on U.S.-Cuba History 

As discussed in a prior post, the U.S. Supreme Court on June 8, 2015, in Zivotofsky v. Kerry decided that the U.S. President had the exclusive power in the U.S. Government to recognize foreign nations and governments.

In the course of that opinion, the Court discussed two facets of U.S.-Cuba relations. The first related to Cuba’s 1960 expropriation of U.S. property interests in Cuba, which Cuba’s official newspaper, Granma, just commemorated as covered n a prior post. The second related to the U.S. entry in 1898 into Cuba’s war of independence from Spain.

Cuba’s 1960 Expropriation of U.S. Properties

The discussion of Cuba’s expropriation occurred in a significant earlier decision of the Supreme Court, Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino , 376 U.S. 398 (1964), which the Court this June asserted stood for the proposition that the Court already had endorsed the practice of U.S. presidents exercising unilateral power to recognize new states.

In Sabbatino the Court decided that the judicially-created act-of-state doctrine prevented U.S. courts from adjudicating a claim that the Cuban expropriation violated international law. According to the Court, ”the Judicial Branch will not examine the validity of a taking of property within its own territory by a foreign sovereign government, extant and recognized by this country at the time of suit, in the absence of a treaty or other unambiguous agreement regarding controlling legal principles, even if the complaint alleges that the taking violates customary international law.”

Important to that conclusion in Sabbatino was the Court’s opinion that at least in 1964, “There are few if any issues in international law today on which opinion seems to be so divided as the limitations on a state’s power to expropriate the property of aliens. There is, of course, authority, in international judicial and arbitral decisions, in the expressions of national governments, and among commentators for the view that a taking is improper under international law if it is not for a public purpose, is discriminatory, or is without provision for prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.”

However, the Court continued in Sabbatino, “Communist countries, although they have in fact provided a degree of compensation after diplomatic efforts, commonly recognize no obligation on the part of the taking country. Certain representatives of the newly independent and underdeveloped countries have questioned whether rules of state responsibility toward aliens can bind nations that have not consented to them, and it is argued that the traditionally articulated standards governing expropriation of property reflect ‘imperialist’ interests, and are inappropriate to the circumstances of emergent states. The disagreement as to relevant international law standards reflects an even more basic divergence between the national interests of capital importing and capital exporting nations, and between the social ideologies of those countries that favor state control of a considerable portion of the means of production and those that adhere to a free enterprise system. It is difficult to imagine the courts of this country embarking on adjudication in an area which touches more sensitively the practical and ideological goals of the various members of the community of nations.”

For the Court in Zivotofsky, Sabbatino was important because it held that “Political recognition is exclusively a function of the Executive” and because the U.S. “Executive had recognized the Cuban Government, the Court held that it should be treated as sovereign and could benefit from the ‘act of state’ doctrine.”

Congress was very unhappy with the decision in the Sabbatino case and immediately passed the so-called Second Hickenlooper Amendment that stated that the courts are not to apply the Act of State Doctrine as a bar against hearing cases of expropriation by a foreign sovereign unless the President requests the courts to consider the Act of State Doctrine because foreign policy interests may be damaged by judicial interference. This amendment was retroactive and subsequently found constitutional, leading to the dismissal of the Cuban bank’s complaint in Sabbatino. (This reaction to Sabbatino was not mentioned by the Court in Zivotofsky.)

U.S. 1898 Entry into Cuba’s  War of Independence

The reference to  the U.S. entry in 1898 into Cuba’s war of independence from Spain was raised by the plaintiff in Zivotofsky as purportedly establishing congressional power to recognize a foreign government. The Court disagreed, saying that it merely established that some presidents have chosen to cooperate with Congress, not that Congress has exercised the recognition power.

Here is the Court’s recitation of that history. “In 1898, an insurgency against the Spanish colonial government was raging in Cuba. President [William] McKinley determined to ask Congress for authorization to send armed forces to Cuba to help quell the violence. Although McKinley thought Spain was to blame for the strife, he opposed recognizing either Cuba or its insurgent government.”

“At first, the House proposed a resolution consistent with McKinley’s wishes. The Senate countered with a resolution that authorized the use of force but that did recognize both Cuban independence and the insurgent government. When the Senate’s version reached the House, the House again rejected the language recognizing Cuban independence. The resolution went to Conference, which, after debate, reached a compromise. The final resolution stated “the people of the Island of Cuba are, and of right ought to be, free and independent,” but made no mention of recognizing a new Cuban Government. Accepting the compromise, the President signed the joint resolution.”

 

 

 

Update on Congressional Actions Regarding Cuba 

A June 12th post reviewed the status of appropriations bills relating to Cuba in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now we look at what happened last week in Congress on these and other measures.

National Defense Authorization Act FY 2016[1]

On June 18, the Senate passed its version of the spending authorization for the Department of Defense for Fiscal Year 2016.

The White House threatened to veto the bill. The main bone of contention is the bill’s continuation of sequestration of funds and use of so-called budget gimmicks. The White House opposes also opposes the bill because it contains language that it claims would make it hard to shutter the U.S. prison facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It calls the process for winning congressional approval of closing Guantánamo “unnecessary and overly restrictive.”

The same day, however, Senator John McCain (Rep., AZ) said that Defense Secretary Aston Carter had pledged to come forward to Congress with a plan to close the Guantanamo prison facility. Even if the administration hands over a plan to close the facility, however, it’s unclear if it could get passed through Congress. McCain’s proposal divided Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee and he faces opposition from House lawmakers.

Now the Senate and House have to confer and negotiate a bill that can pass both chambers. One of the major challenges are the different provisions regarding the Guantanamo detention facility and detainees:

  • The Senate’s version of the bill provides the President with a path to close the prison in Guantanamo if Congress signs off on the plan.
  • The House version does not include an option for closing the prison, but instead would maintain restrictions on transferring prisoners. The House bill also adds additional certification requirements, bans detainees from being transferred to “combat zones” and blocks any transfers of prisoners to the United States including for medical purposes.

Intelligence Authorization Act, FY 2016 (H.R.2596)[2]

On June 16 the House passed, 247-178, the Intelligence Authorization Act FY 2016 (H.R.2596). It outlines policy for 16 federal intelligence agencies, including the CIA and .the National Reconnaissance Agency. After the vote, John Boehner (Rep., OH), the Speaker of the House, said, “This bill sustains and strengthens our capabilities to combat terrorism, cyberattacks, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, while making every taxpayer dollar count.”

The bill’s sections 321 would ban the transfer of certain Guantanamo detainees to the U.S.; section 322 would ban the construction or modification of U.S. facilities to house certain Guantanamo detainees; and section 323 would ban transfer of Guantanamo detainees to combat zones. Sections 331 and 333 would require certain reports to Congress regarding such detainees.

Rep. Adam Schiff (Dem., CA), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, criticized the bill’s banning the government from transferring such detainees to the U.S. or a recognized “combat zone.” Schiff said, “We are not safer because of Guantanamo’s existence. In fact, it makes us more vulnerable by drawing more recruits to the jihad.” Moreover, the definition of “combat zone,” Schiff added, is “so broad as to include allies and partners such as Jordan.” An amendment from Schiff to eliminate the new restrictions failed 176-246.

Before the vote, the White House said, “While there are areas of agreement with the committee, the administration strongly objects to several provisions of the bill,” and “If this bill were presented to the president, the President’s senior advisors would recommend to the president that he veto it.”

Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act FY 2016[3]

On June 17 the House Appropriations Committee approved the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act FY 2016 on a straight party-line vote, 30 to 20.The Committee’s press release states the bill provides $20.2 billion in funding for “critical national programs to enforce U.S. laws , maintain a fair and efficient judicial system, and help small businesses grow” while reducing or eliminating lower-priority programs and cutting “poor-performing agencies—including an $838 million reduction to the Internal Revenue Service.”

One of the most controversial provisions of the bill was the temporary blocking of the newly implemented net neutrality rules, which was criticized by the White House without a threat of a veto.

As noted in a prior post, according to the Committee’s press release, the bill contains prohibitions on (a) “travel to Cuba for educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program;” (b) “importation of property confiscated by the Cuban Government;” and (c) “financial transactions with the Cuban military or intelligence service.” I, however, am still unable to find these provisions in the bill. I solicit comments identifying these provisions.

In the Committee Rep. Nita Lowey (Dem., NY), the top Democrat of the full committee, offered an amendment that would have removed what she called “20 veto-bait riders” or policy provisions, including these Cuba-related measures. The proposal was blocked on a party-line vote.

Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 (S.299)[4]

A prior post discussed the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 that was introduced by Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ). In addition, it now has 44 cosponsors: 36 Democrats, 6 Republicans and 2 Independents.

A recent New York Times editorial endorsed the lifting the ban on travel to Cuba. It said, “The ban — the only travel prohibition American citizens are currently subjected to — never made sense, and it’s particularly misguided in an era of broadening engagement between the United States and Cuba.” Now, “the trajectory is unmistakable. Public opinion polls show that a majority of Cubans on the island and Americans favor engagement. Congress should wait no longer to do its part.”

Cuban Military Transparency Act (S.1489)[5]

On June 3 Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) introduced the Cuban Military Transparency Act (S.1489) with seven cosponsors (Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), Orrin Hatch (Rep., UT), Tom Cotton (Rep., AR), Ted Cruz (Rep., TX), Cory Gardner (Rep., CO), David Vitter (Rep., LA), Mark Kirk (Rep., IL). It was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

The bill would prohibit a U.S. person from engaging in any financial transaction with or transfer of funds to: the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba or the Ministry of the Interior of Cuba (or any of their subdivisions); a senior member of such Ministries; any agency, instrumentality, or other entity that is more than 25% owned, or that is operated or controlled by, such a Ministry; or any individual or entity for the purpose of avoiding a prohibited financial transaction or transfer of funds that is for the benefit of that individual or entity. Excluded from these bans are the sale to Cuba of agricultural commodities, medicines, and medical devices; remittances to an immediate family member; or assistance in furtherance of democracy-building efforts for Cuba.

The bill would also require (a) the U.S. Attorney General to coordinate with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) in order to pursue the location and arrest of U.S. fugitives in Cuba, including current and former members of the Cuban military and (b) the U.S. President to provide reports on the role of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior in Cuba and the return of property that has been confiscated by the Government of Cuba.

In his press release about the bill, Senator Rubio said, ““It is not in the interest of the United States or the people of Cuba for the U.S. to become a financier of the Castro regime’s brutality. The Cuban Military Transparency Act would prevent U.S. dollars from getting into the hands of the Cuban military and would demand accountability from the Obama Administration regarding fugitives of American justice in Cuba, the return of stolen and uncompensated property and the role of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior in Cuba.”

The Center for Democracy in the Americas opposes this bill. It admits “that in Cuba, a socialist state with a largely state-owned economy, the military is invested in state-owned businesses, and several of those . . . are dominant players in Cuba’s tourist industry. Given the military’s broad role in Cuba’s economy, any expenditure by U.S. travelers and businesses – including the cost of hotel rooms, telephone calls, airport taxes, the hotel occupancy tax, sales taxes on tourist purchases, resort fees – could be prohibited presumptively unless the traveler or company could persuade [the U.S. Treasury agency] they spent their money in Cuba some other way.” But “how could they prove the negative? Who in Cuba will hand out the forms that say “that hotel room” or “that painting” or “that serving of ropa vieja” didn’t come from an enterprise owned or controlled by Cuba’s military?”

Therefore, according to the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the true purpose of this bill is “to shame, harass, and try to stop every American from visiting Cuba or seeking to do business in Cuba, and to return U.S. policy to its pre-December 17, 2014 goal of starving the Cuban economy and the Cuban people along with it.”

Conclusion

These latest congressional developments reinforce the need for continued vigilance by supporters of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation to pay attention to what is happening in Congress and to continue to express their opinions on these issues to their representatives in that body and to the larger community.

I take pride in the strong support for such reconciliation in the State of Minnesota, so far away from Cuba. A recent article in MINNPOST explored this apparently strange phenomenon. Eric Schwartz, Dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and a non-native Minnesotan, believes there are three main reasons for this fact. First, two of Minnesota’s biggest industries — agriculture and medical devices — have massive potential exports to Cuba. Second, Minnesota’s lack of a large Cuban-American community and its distance from the island mean our lawmakers are not subject to the same pressures as representatives from states like Florida and New Jersey. Third, many of Minnesota’s federal legislators are reasonable people.

I concur in that opinion, but believe Schwartz has missed the fundamental reason for strong Minnesota support for this reconciliation. Many people in this State are interested in what goes on in the world and are actively engaged with the rest of the world through their churches like Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Center for Victims of Torture, Advocates for Human Rights, the Minnesota Cuba Committee and various programs at the University of Minnesota and through Minnesotans’ welcoming immigrants and refugees from around the world, especially from Somalia, Viet Nam and Laos, and through major multinational corporations headquartered here like Cargill, which is leading the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba,3M, Medtronic and General Mills.

I was pleased to read about the change of heart of a prominent Cuban-American Republican who was U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the George W. Bush Administration, Carlos Gutierrez. In an op-ed essay in the New York Times, he said,” it is now time for Republicans and the wider American business community to stop fixating on the past and embrace a new approach to Cuba.” He added, “Some of my fellow Cuban-Americans insist that continuing to squeeze Cuba economically will help the Cuban people because it will lead to democracy. I wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.”

Gutierrez concluded, “America must look to the future instead — and pursue this opportunity to assist Cubans in building a new economy. There is a lot of work to do, and progress will be slow. However, the business community and my fellow Cuban-Americans and Republicans should not ignore the possibilities ahead. The Cuban people need and deserve our help.”

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[1] Matishak, White House threatens to veto Senate’s defense spending bill, The Hill (June 18, 2015); Carney, McCain expects Pentagon plan on closing Guantanamo, The Hill (June 18, 2015);Carney, Five challenges for the defense bill (June 21, 2015).

[2] This section of the post is based upon Hattem, House passes intel bill over White House objections, The Hill (June 16, 2015).

[3] This section of the post is based upon the following: House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: Appropriations Committee Approves Fiscal Year 2016 Financial Services Bill (Jun 17, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., Financial Services Appropriations Act FY 2016 (June 9?, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., Report: Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, 2016, No. 114- —( 2015);Trujillo, House panel advances rider to block Internet rules, The Hill (June 7, 2015); Trujillo, Obama administration knocks net neutrality riders in funding bill, The Hill (June 17, 2015)  Shabad, Bill with $838M IRS cut advances in House, The Hill (June 17, 2015).

[4] Library of Congress THOMAS, S.299 Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 (Cosponsors)

[5] This portion of the post is based upon the following: Library of Congress THOMAS, Cuban Military Transparency Act; Rubio, Press Release: Senators Introduce Bill To Deny Resources To Castro’s Military and Security Services (June 3, 2015); Center for Democracy in Americas, The Cuban Military Not So Transparent Act (June 19, 2015).

More House Republican Efforts To Impede U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives continue inserting into appropriation bills provisions to impede U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. Here are three more.

Department of Defense Appropriation Act, 2016 [1]

On June 11, the House passed, 278-149, the Department of Defense Appropriation Act, 2016 (H.R.2685). According to the Appropriations Committee press release, the bill would provide $578.6 billion to fund “critical national security needs, military operations abroad, and health and quality-of-life programs for the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families.”

The bill also would bar the use of funds (i) “to transfer, release, or assist in the transfer or release to or within the United States, its territories, or possessions Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or [other non-U.S. citizens or non-members of U.S. Armed Forces at Guantanamo Bay Cuba on or after June 24, 2009] (Section 8100); (ii) “to construct, acquire, or modify any facility in the United States, its territories, or possessions to house any [such] individual” (Section 8101); and (iii) “to transfer any individual detained at . . . Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the custody or control of the individual’s country of origin, any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity except in accordance with section 1035 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014” (Section 8102).

Also on June 11 the Senate Appropriations Committee approved, 27-3, its defense- funding bill for $575.9 billion. Although only three Democrats voted against the bill, the Democrats’ leaders said they would block the bill on the floor because it continues the sequestration of funding, which they oppose. However, the committee did vote 18-12 to adopt a measure by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Dem, NH) to express the sense of the Senate that the budget caps should be lifted.

Moreover, Democratic senators are threatening to block consideration of all spending bills unless the Republicans agree to a budget summit. In addition, the White House is threatening to veto any such measure that has the sequestration caps.

A motion to amend the bill was offered by Democratic Senators Dick Durbin (IL) and Diane Feinstein (CA) to allow the Obama administration to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainees to maximum-security prisons in the U.S., but it was defeated, 14-16.
Durbin argued that it cost $3.2 million per year to house a detainee at the Cuban prison, versus $70,000 at a super-max facility in the U.S. while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a retired Air Force colonel and a 2016 presidential candidate, argued the funding for Guantánamo is “money well spent” and hoped “we fill the damn place up.”

The White House has threatened a veto of these bills over insufficient funding and the above provisions relating to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

State Department Appropriations Act FY 2016 [2]

On June 11 the House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the appropriations bill for the State Department and Foreign Operations for FY 2016. It would provide nearly $47.8 billion, which is 11% ($869 million) less than the White House’s request.[3]

The bill contains provisions that impede U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. The main one is Section 7045 (c)(3)(A) (pp. 175-76), that would bar the use of funds (i) “for the establishment or operations of a United States diplomatic presence, including an Embassy, Consulate, or liaison office, in Cuba beyond that which was in existence prior to December 17, 2014;” or (ii) “to facilitate the establishment or operation of a diplomatic mission of Cuba, including an Embassy, Consulate, or liaison office, in the United States beyond that which was in existence prior to December 17, 2014.”[4]

There are still other references to Cuba in the bill. Section 7045 (c)(1) allocates $30 million “to promote democracy and strengthen civil society in Cuba: Provided, That no funds shall be obligated for business promotion, economic reform, entrepreneurship, or any other assistance that is not democracy-building as expressly authorized in the Cuban Liberty and Solidarity (LIBERTAD)Act of 1996 and the Cuban Democracy Act (CDA) of 1992.” Section 7045 (c)(2) prohibits use of certain funds to establish any organization to carry out the existing broadcasting and related programs for Latin America and the Caribbean region or to alter the structure of Cuba Broadcasting. Others are Section 7007 (p. 64)(no funds for “assistance or reparations for the governments of Cuba, North Korea, Iran or Syria”); and Section 7015 (f) (p. 76-81)(no funds for assistance to Cuba and certain other countries).

Reacting to the Committee’s previous release of a draft of the bill, the White House budget director Shaun Donovan said the funding level “will pose a significant constraint on USAID and the Department of State’s ability to conduct diplomatic engagement. Taken together, these cuts would impede our ability to conduct effective diplomacy and development, essential components of our national security,” Donovan also criticized the ban on funds for a new embassy in Havana. He said it would interfere with the executive branch’s ability “to make the best decisions consistent with our national security.”

The bill also has a provision to withhold 15 percent of the State Department’s operational funds, unless it turns over documents faster to the congressional panel investigating the assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Treasury Department Appropriations Act FY 2016[5]

On June 10 the Appropriations Committee released the draft Financial Services Bill FY 2016. According to the Committee’s press release, the bill allocates $20.2 billion for the Treasury Department, the Judiciary, the Small Business Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several other agencies. It purportedly prioritizes “critical national programs to enforce U.S. laws, maintain a fair and efficient judicial system, and help small businesses grow.” It also “reduces or eliminates lower-priority programs and cuts funding to poor-performing agencies—including an $838 million reduction to the Internal Revenue Service.”

The Committee’s press release also discloses that the bill contains prohibitions on (a) “travel to Cuba for educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program;” (b) “importation of property confiscated by the Cuban Government;” and (c) “financial transactions with the Cuban military or intelligence service.” I searched, but could not find these provisions in the 156-page draft bill, and I solicit comments to identify these provisions. Here is an outline of the bill to assist in such an endeavor

Title Pages Subject
I 2-27 Department of Treasury
II 27-41 Executive Office of the President
III 42-50 Judiciary
IV 51-61 District of Columbia
V 61-96 Independent Agencies
VI 96-111 General Provisions—This Act
VII 111-146 General Provisions—Government-Wide
VIII 146-156 General Provisions—District of Columbia
IX 156 Additional General Provision

The draft bill on June 11 was submitted for markup to the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, but so far no information is available about the result of that markup. It will be before the full Committee for markup on June 17th.

Conclusion

I already have expressed my disgust at these anti-reconciliation measures and at the tactic of including them in appropriations bills and thereby running the risk of partial or complete government shutdown if the President vetoes some or all of such bills.

Therefore, all supporters of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation should contact their representatives and senators to urge them to seek to eliminate these provisions. Contact information for senator and representatives is available online.

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[1] Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2016 (H.R. 2685); House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: House Appropriations Committee House Releases Fiscal 2016 Defense Bill (May 19, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: House Passes Fiscal Year 2016 Defense Appropriations Bill (June 11, 2015); Matishak & Wong, OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House passes defense spending bill, The Hill (June 11, 2015); Assoc. Press, House Passes Defense Spending Bill, N.Y. Times (June 11, 2015).

[2] House App. Comm., Draft Bill Making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes (June 2, 2015); House App. Comm, Press Release: Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2016 State and Foreign Operations bill, (June 2, 2015); Reuters, U.S. House Panel Seeks to Ban Funding for U.S. Embassy in Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: Appropriations Committee Approves Fiscal Year 2016 State and Foreign Operations Bill (June 11, 2015); Matishak, Funding bill advances despite criticism of Benghazi provision, The Hill (June 11, 2015), Shabab, WH budget chief: GOP spending bill would interfere with diplomacy, The Hill (June 10, 2015); Assoc. Press, House Panel Oks Bill Punishing State Over Benghazi Response, N.Y. Times (June 11, 2015).

[3] A prior post discussed the draft of this bill.

[4] The above prohibited use of funds would “not apply if the President determines and reports to the appropriate congressional committees that the government in Cuba has met the requirements and factors specified in section 205 of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (22 U.S.C. 6065).” (Section 7045 (c )(3)(B).)

[5]  House Appropriations Comm., Press Release: Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2016 Financial Services Bill (June 10, 2015); House Appropriations Comm., A Bill Making appropriations for financial services and general government for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016 and for other purposes (June 10, 2015);  Shabad, House Republicans propose $838 million cut to IRS, The Hill (June 10, 2015).

 

Pending Congressional Authorization and Appropriation Bills Relating to Cuba

Prior posts reviewed pending congressional legislation supporting and opposing U.S.-Cuba reconciliation.

References to Cuba are also found in three pending appropriation bills that appropriate or set aside money to specific federal departments, agencies and programs; such bills, under the Constitution, must originate in the House of Representatives. Other references to Cuba exist in two pending authorization bills that authorize activities of federal departments, agencies and programs; such bills, under the Constitution, may originate in either chamber of the Congress. Details of these bills may be found on the Library of Congress’ THOMAS website. All of these bills will be discussed in this post.

 Appropriation Bills

 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015 (H.R.240). This bill was introduced in the House on January 9, 2015, was passed by the House on January 14th and by the Senate with an amendment on February 27, and on March 3 the House concurred in the Senate’s amendment. On March 4 it was signed into law (Pub. L. No. 114-4) by the President.[1]

Section 533 of Pub. L. No. 114-4 states, “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this or any other Act may be used to transfer, release, or assist in the transfer or release to or within the United States, its territories, or possessions Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any other detainee who—(1) is not a United States citizen or a member of the Armed Forces of the United States; and (2) is or was held on or after June 24, 2009, at the United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by the Department of Defense.” (Emphasis added.)

Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016 (H.R.2029). This bill was introduced in the House on April 24 and passed by the House on April 30. On May 21, the bill was reported favorably by the Senate Appropriations Committee with an amendment in the nature of a substitute, and it was placed on the Senate’s Legislative Calendar.

Section 512 of the House’s version of this bill and section 410 of the Senate’s version of this bill provides that none of the funds “may be used to construct, renovate, or expand any facility in the United States, its territories, or possessions to house any individual [who is not a U.S. citizen or member of the U.S. armed forces] detained at United States Naval Station, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for the purposes of detention or imprisonment in the custody or under the control of the Department of Defense.” However, this restriction does not apply to any modification of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station.

Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act, 2016 (H.R.—) On May 13th the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved the Final Committee Draft of this Act under the title, “A BILL –Making appropriations for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes.” The vote to approve was adopted on a straight party-line vote, 30 Republicans to 21 Democrats.[2]

This draft bill contains two restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba. One of the proposed restrictions is found in Section 193 (pp. 69-70), which states as follows:

  • “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to facilitate new scheduled air transportation originating from the United States if such flights would land on, or pass through, property confiscated by the Cuban Government, including property in which a minority interest was confiscated, as the terms confiscated, Cuban Government, and property are defined in paragraphs (4), (5), and (12)(A), respectively, of section 4 of 5 the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (22 U.S.C. 6023 (4), (5), and 7 (12)(A)): Provided, That for this section, new scheduled air transportation shall include any flights not already regularly scheduled prior to March 31, 2015.”

The other proposed restriction is in Section 414 of the draft bill (p. 154), which states as follows:

  • “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Federal Maritime Commission or the Administrator of the Maritime Administration to issue a license or certificate for a commercial vessel that docked or anchored within the previous 180 days within 7 miles of a port on property that was confiscated, in whole or in part, by the Cuban Government, as the terms confiscated, Cuban Government, and property are defined in paragraphs (4), (5), and (12)(A), respectively, of section 4 of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (22 U.S.C. 6023).”

 Authorization Bills

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (H.R.1735). This bill was introduced in the House on April 13 and was passed by the House on May 15. It has the following nine sections relating to Guantanamo Bay Naval Station:

  • Section 1034 requires reports to Congress about contacts between terrorists and former Guantanamo detainees.
  • Section 1035 requires reports to Congress to include information about recidivism of former Guantanamo detainees.
  • Section 1036 bans the release of certain Guantanamo detainees into the U.S.
  • Section 1037 bans use of funds to construct or modify facilities in U.S. for certain Guantanamo detainees.
  • Section 1038 bans the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to a combat zone.
  • Sections 1039-1041 require certain certifications and documents to be submitted to Congress for transfer of Guantanamo detainees to foreign countries.
  • Section 1042 bans the use of funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees to Yemen.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (S.1376). On May 19 it was introduced and reported favorably to the Senate and placed on its Legislative Calendar. It contains provisions (Sections 1031-1038) regarding Guantanamo Bay detainees that are similar to those in the House version of the bill.

Conclusion

For two reasons, the most troublesome of these bills for U.S.-Cuba reconciliation is the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act, 2016. First, it would impose restrictions on travel by air or sea from the U.S. to Cuba. Second, although President Obama has the power to veto this bill as he has for all other bills, including those discussed in the prior post about measures opposing reconciliation, vetoing an appropriations bill means that certain parts of the federal government would not be funded for the period covered by the bill with a lot of adverse collateral consequences beyond the Cuba issues.

The other bills mentioned in this post have provisions directly interfering with President Obama’s long-held desire to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities and program and indirectly affecting U.S. negotiations over Guantanamo with Cuba.[3]

Supporters of reconciliation should urge their representatives in the Senate and House to oppose the Cuba anti-travel provisions in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act, 2016. Contact information for the members of the House and Senate is available online.

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[1] H.R.240 apparently superseded H.R.861 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015 and S.272 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2015.

[2] This House Appropriations Committee action was discussed in a prior post.

[3] Most of these provisions about Guantanamo exist in free-standing bills discussed in the post about bills opposing reconciliation.

 

Update on Proposed U.S. Legislation Opposing U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation  

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 12th approved 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Conclusion

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Holds Hearing About Cuba

On May 20th the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing, “U.S.-Cuban Relations—The Way Forward.”[1]

 Chairman Corker’s Opening Statement

Senator Bob Corker
Senator Bob Corker

The Committee Chair, Bob Corker (Rep., TN) opened by stating that the hearing would focus “on the strategy behind the President’s significant shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba.” Even though this shift “has been welcomed in Latin America and the Caribbean . . . significant differences of opinion exist in the [U.S.] over the extent to which this change in policy will advance U.S. interests and improve circumstances for the Cuban people.”

Therefore, according to Corker, the strategic issue was “how our nation can best engage strategically with the region and beyond to help Cuba rejoin the mainstream of the Americas and offer its citizens the same rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens of other countries in the region.”

Ranking Member Cardin’s Opening Statement

Senator Ben Cardin
Senator Ben Cardin

The Ranking Member of the Committee, Senator Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), stated, “The President’s action [on December 17th] brought with it a new opportunity to forge a bilateral relationship that will strengthen our efforts to advance and defend U.S. national interests, and will allow our government and our citizens to expand support for the Cuban people. Today’s hearing provides an important opportunity to review the advances achieved under the Administration’s new Cuba policy and to understand the strategy for moving forward.  Without a doubt, this is a complicated process and it will take time to achieve the progress we want to see.”

“[W]e all stand together in our aspirations to see the Cuban people have the opportunity to build a society where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, where democratic values and political pluralism are tolerated, and where individuals can work unobstructed to improve their living conditions. We also share concerns about critical issues, such as the Cuban government’s ongoing abuse of human rights and the presence of American fugitives in Cuba, especially those wanted for the murder of U.S. law enforcement officers.”

“But, the central question is: how can we best advance these aspirations while also addressing these concerns? It goes without saying that our previous policy did not achieve the progress that we wanted to see, and so a new approach is needed.”

“President Obama has laid out a new path based on the belief that principled engagement will bring more results. I think that this is the right path for the following reasons:

“First, for far too long, the Cuban government has used U.S. policy as an excuse to justify its shortcomings and the hardships the Cuban people face.  The Cuban government also has exploited U.S. policy for diplomatic gains, focusing international debate about what the U.S. should do, rather than about what Cuba needs to do to better provide for its citizens.”

“Second, despite differences we may have with a government, our foreign policy should always endeavor to support that country’s people to the greatest degree possible.  Our disagreements with the Cuban government are well known and many.  But, over time, we have allowed those disagreements to get in the way of developing a strategy that utilizes all of our resources to empower the people of Cuba.”

“I have no doubt that the dynamism of American society will make a positive contribution to empowering the Cuban people and provide them with the information they need to build the future of their country.”

“Third, the Administration’s new Cuba policy will provide the U.S., and especially our diplomats, with new tools to engage directly with the Cuban government to have principled and frank discussions about the issues we disagree about and how we might work together better on issues of common interest.”

Testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson

Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson
Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson

Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified, “[W]e have begun to see the Administration’s new approach to Cuba providing space for other nations in the hemisphere and around the world to focus on promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba and elsewhere in the region. This was illustrated at the Summit of the Americas in Panama last April. Engagement by the President and the Secretary at the Summit re-invigorated our momentum on a variety of issues.”

“Our new approach has drawn greater attention to the potential for greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people and the gap between Cuba and other countries in the Hemisphere. More Americans are travelling to Cuba, getting past the rhetoric, meeting Cubans, and building shared understanding between our people. We have seen practical cooperation in our official dialogues with Cuba on issues in our national interest like maritime and aviation safety, telecommunications, and environmental cooperation.

“Our future discussions on law enforcement cooperation, coupled with the ongoing migration talks, will expand the avenues available to seek the return of American fugitives from justice as well as the return of Cubans residing illegally in the United States. The same is true for future talks on human rights and settling American claims for expropriated properties. Most importantly, the President’s new approach makes clear that the United States can no longer be blamed as an obstacle to progress on things like access to information and connecting Cubans to the world.”

Nevertheless, “significant differences remain between our two governments. We continue to raise our concerns regarding democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression. And we will seek to engage with all Cubans to gain their perspectives on the best way forward for the country.”

“Our policy towards Cuba is based on a clear-eyed strategy that empowers the Cuban people to determine their own future by creating new economic opportunities and increasing their contact with the outside world. That is why we made it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba, and opened new pathways for academic, religious, and people-to-people exchanges. These changes create powerful new connections between our two countries and help the nascent private sector in Cuba, which is already an agent of positive change on the island. The steps we have implemented build on this foundation by increasing authorized travel, authorized commerce, and the flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.”

“Our new approach emphasizes targeted forms of commerce that offer economic opportunity to independent Cuban entrepreneurs or, like expanded communications, benefit all Cubans. Comprehensive changes in our economic relationship will require Congressional action to lift the embargo. The President has urged Congress to begin that effort. In the meantime, we are using available policy tools to promote a prosperous, democratic, and stable Cuba.”

“In a short period of time, we have already started to see U.S. enterprises seizing the new opportunities. The regulatory changes we announced are intended to increase the financial and material resources available to the Cuban people and the emerging Cuban private sector. They also enable U.S. companies to offer expanded telecommunications and internet services in ways that could help Cuban civil society members advance their aspirations and collectively become more prosperous.”

“Regarding the Administration’s decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, as President Obama said, ‘throughout this process, our emphasis has been on the facts.’ . . . We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions do not relate to any of the criteria relevant to that designation.”

“While progress has been made in our efforts to reestablish diplomatic relations, there is more to do to ensure a future U.S. Embassy will be able to function more like other diplomatic missions elsewhere in the world and foreign diplomatic missions in Cuba. Even today, under challenging circumstances, our diplomats do their very best to represent the interests and values of the United States, just as we do in hundreds of places around the world. Our engagement with the broadest range of Cubans will expand once we establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.”

Testimony of State Department Counselor Shannon

Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.

State Department Counselor Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. testified, “My purpose today is to address the regional context in which . . . [the U.S. Cuba] policy is unfolding, and to lay out some of the strategic dimensions of our diplomacy.”

“The decision to engage with Cuba and seek normalization of our bilateral relationship attempts to create a new terrain on which to pursue a future that meets our interests and corresponds to our values. Our commitment to democracy and human rights, and our desire and hope that the Cuban people will know the benefits of liberty and become the sovereigns of their own destiny, is no less for our action.”

“The President has been clear about the commitment in our Cuba policy to our enduring and fundamental principles of self-government and individual liberty. However, he has also been clear about our inability to effect significant change in Cuba acting alone across so many decades. Instead, he determined that our efforts would be more effective if we could position Cuba squarely within an inter-American system that recognizes democracy as a right that belongs to all the peoples of our Hemisphere, believes that democracy is essential to the political, economic, and social development of our peoples, and has the juridical instruments, treaties, and agreements to give shape, form, and weight to these commitments. It was our determination that this kind of environment would be the most propitious to support the only legitimate agent of peaceful and enduring political change in Cuba: the Cuban people.”

“The Americas, and specifically Latin America, has anticipated many of the events that are shaping our world. It is a region that has moved largely from authoritarian to democratic government, from closed to open economies, from exclusive to inclusive societies, from autarkical development to regional integration, and from isolation to globalization.”

“Latin America is the first developing region of the world to commit itself explicitly to democratic governance through the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the first to build a democratic model of development, and the first to establish regional structures to promote and protect human rights.”

“While creating a broad base of shared political values, Latin America has also constructed shared economic understandings and a commitment by many of the most successful countries in the Hemisphere to market economies and free trade. In the process, it has built sub-regional integration and political dialogue through organizations like the Common Market of the South, the Andean Community, the Union of South American Nations, and the Central American Integration System, all the while preserving larger hemispheric institutions, such as the Organization of American States and the Summit of the Americas process, that connect Latin America to the Caribbean and North America.”

“As Latin America advances into the 21st century, it is undergoing a second generation of change. Politically, it has consolidated democratic government and is strengthening democratic states and societies. This has opened up political institutions to new voices and actors, deepening the representativeness of many Latin American governments and challenging traditional elites and interests. In some countries, weak democratic institutions have not been able to contain the social energy unlocked by democratization, leading to populism and political polarization as groups struggle for control of the state. As troubling as this phenomenon can be, it does not define the democratization of the region but instead presents a challenge for the region to show how it can address such incidents through the organizations and institutional mechanisms it has created.”

“Economically, Latin America is building innovative integration mechanisms such as the Pacific Alliance, and reaching into Asia and North America to find new and important economic partners. We have FTAs with 12 countries in the Hemisphere, and the continued globalization of Latin America is driven not only by the regions abundant commodities, especially food and energy, but also by growing middle classes that have created attractive markets for manufactured goods and services.”

“The profound changes unleashed in Latin America show clearly that democracy and markets can deliver economic development and address longstanding social inequities such as poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. In effect, Latin America has used democracy and markets to launch peaceful social revolutions that are transforming many countries in important and long-lasting ways. Our ability to promote profound and dramatic change in Latin America is an example of what the United States can accomplish through diplomacy and engagement.”

“If we accomplished such a profound transformation in our Hemisphere through engagement, why not try the same approach with Cuba? And better yet, why not try it in partnership with countries and institutions that are now prepared to work with us because of the President’s new policy?”

“Cuba today finds itself part of a dynamic, vibrant region where transformative change has been the watchword for several decades. And it finds itself in a region where the momentum of that change will continue to reshape political, economic, and social landscapes. In such an environment, the Cuban people will find many models and partners from which to learn and choose. We should be one of those models and partners.”

Questioning Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon

Of the 11 Committee members in attendance, six made comments and asked questions supportive of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation: Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), Barbara Boxer (Dem., CA), Tom Udall (Dem., NM), Tim Kaine (Dem., VA), Edward Markey (Dem., MA) and Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ).

With Chairman Corker being judiciously noncommittal in his comments, the other four in attendance were hostile to the reconciliation: Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ), Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), Ron Johnson (Rep., WI) and David Perdue (Rep., GA).

In response to Senator Corker’s opening question about whether to date the U.S. had obtained any changes in Cuba policies, Jacobson implicitly said none by emphasizing that the U.S. actions to increase the ability of U.S. nationals to travel to Cuba and to send remittances to Cubans were assisting the latters’ ability to form businesses and over time to be agents for change. The same was true, she said, of new U.S. policies to encourage U.S. businesses to export telecommunications equipment to the island. Shannon added that the new U.S. policies helped the U.S. with other countries in Latin America, especially within the Organization of the American States (OAS) and the Summit of the Americas.

Jacobson also mentioned the OAS and the United Nations as well as continued U.S. annual reports about human rights as means the U.S. would use to assess whether Cuba makes improvements in human rights. She also reiterated her point about U.S. travel and investment in Cuba as instruments for aiding such improvements, all in response to a question from Senator Rubio.

Rubio also pressed Jacobson to concede that the U.S. and Cuba had different notions of human rights. She did so with respect to free speech, peaceful assembly and elections, but she did not point out the U.S.-Cuba agreement on many theoretical issues of human rights as discussed in a prior post.

Another major Rubio argument was increased American travel to Cuba merely benefited the Cuban government and military, which owned, in whole or in part, hotels and car rental companies. The amount of such travel to Cuban bed and breakfasts in private homes was insignificant and, in any event, such private establishments had to pay big fees to the government for such businesses. Moreover, Rubio continued, many of these hotels and other properties had been owned by Americans and others and stolen by the Cuban government. Therefore, Rubio said, the U.S. should not be promoting such increased travel.

Senator Boxer responded to this argument by pointing out that the U.S. permits travel to Viet Nam, China and Russia where hotels and other businesses are owned by the state. She also pointed out that direct interactions between U.S. and Cuban citizens should encourage the latter to want more rights. In addition, Boxer said, the rapprochement was improving cooperation regarding Cuba for the U.S. from Europe and others in this Hemisphere. An example was Panama’s reaction to Cuban efforts to suppress free speech at the recent Summit of the Americas in that country.

However, I was surprised that no one responded to Rubio’s argument about hotels that had been stolen by the Cuban government. Indeed, there are substantial damage claims against the Cuban government for its uncompensated expropriation of property, and this is one of the claims the U.S. now is asserting against Cuba, and a prior post argued for submitting these and other damage claims by both countries to an international arbitration.

Senator Johnson focused on provisions of the Libertad Act (a/k/a the Helms-Burton Act) imposing preconditions on U.S. relaxing sanctions against Cuba, presumably as a predicate for an argument that President Obama’s easing of certain sanctions was unauthorized and, therefore, illegal. Jacobson pointed out, however, that other laws had exceptions to sanctions and provided authority to the President to do what he has done. Moreover, she said, the Administration had asked Congress to enact legislation repealing the U.S. embargo of the island, including the Libertad Act.

Senator Menendez, a Cuban-American and a vigorous opponent of the reconciliation, barely concealed his anger over the change in U.S. policies. Since December 17th, he argued, there has been no improvement in Cuban human rights, and in fact there has been a deterioration on this subject.

Senator Perdue reiterated Menendez’ argument about human rights and asserted that Cuba was still a state supporter of terrorism. It allegedly was helping Islamist terrorists, had shipped arms to North Korea that were intercepted in Panama and had another ship with explosives that on February 28, 2015, was intercepted by Colombia. Counselor Shannon pointed out that this Colombian government action was an example of the increased cooperation the U.S. now is obtaining from others in Latin America as a result of the new U.S. policies about Cuba.

Senator Kaine stated that there are roughly 600 bilateral relations in the Western Hemisphere and that the only one without normal diplomatic relations is U.S.-Cuba. In addition, there are no inter-state wars in the Hemisphere and the only civil war is in Colombia, which is the subject of peace negotiations now being held in, and aided by, Cuba. Counselor Shannon concurred, saying this was a remarkable achievement for the Hemisphere going along with its economic and democratic improvements.

 Conclusion

This hearing, in my opinion, did not really provide any new information about the issues or the positions of the participants, which probably why it was not covered in U.S. news media.[2]

The hearing and the lack of news coverage underscored the importance of U.S. citizens who support the reconciliation efforts to convey their opinions to their Senators and Representatives and of the formation and actions of groups like the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba and Engage Cuba Coalition.

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[1] This post is based upon a video of the hearing and on the embedded citations to the opening statements of Senators Corker and Cardin, the testimony of Assistant Secretary Jacobson and Counselor Shannon and to some of the comments by Senators Rubio, Menendez and Perdue.

[2] This brief article is the only one found in a Google search: Gomez, Senators question wisdom of Obama’s Cuba policy, USA Today (May 20, 2015),