Cuba’s Suffering from Continued U.S. Hostility  

After the Obama Administration had taken steps to improve U.S. relations with Cuba, the Trump Administration has gone in the opposite direction, as discussed in many earlier posts.[1]

U.S. Actions and Policies Against Cuba

These negative actions and policies include the following: continuation of U.S. embargo of Cuba; elimination of one of the “general licenses” for U.S. nationals to travel to Cuba; cancelation of right of U.S. cruise ships to make stops on the island; reducing amount of money U.S. nationals legally may remit to relatives and friends in Cuba; allowing litigation in U.S. federal courts over alleged trafficking in U.S.-owned property on the island under the Halms-Burton Act; additions to the U.S. “Cuba Restricted List” of entities and sub entities with which U.S. nationals may not transact business; U.S. negative reports on Cuban human rights, religious freedom and human trafficking; unilateral U.S. report about increasing Cuban Internet access; U.S. consideration of re-designating Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism and of re-instituting U.S. parole for Cuban medical professionals; additional U.S. sanctions against Cuba for its alleged support of Venezuela.[2]

While there are recent bilateral bills in Congress to end the embargo and enhance U.S. nationals’ rights to travel to Cuba, they have not received, and are unlikely to receive, any consideration in the current Senate and perhaps the House of Representatives.[3]

Negative Impact on Cuba of U.S. Actions and Policies[4]

The negative impact, especially of the recent U.S. limiting the ability of Americans to travel to the island, has especially harmed Cuba’s emerging private sector. For example, a website and app used to make reservations, rate restaurants, and pay for meals at most restaurants throughout Cuba (AlaMesa) had to reduce its staff from 20 to 12 in response to a 30 to 40% decline in reservations.

But “Cuba’s economic woes go beyond U.S. policy. The island, with one of the world’s last communist governments, has been caught in a perfect storm. Its economy has been stagnant for years, averaging only about 1 percent annual growth. Its centrally-planned economy imports over two-thirds of its food. Its ally, Venezuela, has been in political and economic turmoil, causing an overall decline in oil shipments from the South American country. The island’s medical exchange program, a major source of revenue, also took a blow. Last November, Cuba recalled 8,517 medical professionals from Brazil in response to President Jair Bolsonaro’s tough stance against Cuba.”

The U.S. allowance of litigation over alleged trafficking in Cuba property owned by Americans is seen as discouraging foreign investment today.

Recently “there have been shortages in basic goods such as eggs, cooking oil and chicken.”

Cuban Government’s Response to Rough Economic Conditions[5]

At the July 13 closing  session of the National Assembly, President Diaz-Canel reported that a series of emergency measures announced that month aimed to stimulate domestic production and he hoped for slight growth this year. “Even in the eye of the hurricane of adversity that the enemy conceived to suffocate us, the Cuban economy can grow slightly, thanks to the fact that we have the potential to resist and continue advancing in our development.” He added that the economy grew 2.2% in 2018, compared with an earlier estimate of 1.2%, and that stronger base would make it harder to reach this year’s goal of 1.5% growth.

The President also said there will be price controls and policies aimed at stimulating local production to meet increased consumer demand without sparking inflation.

The next week of July 15, Cuba experienced power outages and fuel shortages that prompted citizen concern about the possible emergence of a “Special Period II” of harsh economic shortages. Cuba Energy Commissioner Raul Garcia sought to reassure citizens that the power outages were due to breakdowns in power plants, not oil shortages, and that those outages would be fixed by the end of the week.

These measures came at a time when falling Cuban imports have caused scattered shortages of food, hygiene and other products across the country. Diaz-Canel admitted the country was suffering from a liquidity crisis and bureaucracy and was short on fuel. He called on officials and the public to join together in the national emergency and each do their part to move the country forward. “Putting aside vanities and selfishness, practicing honesty, industriousness and decency, we will also be contributing to GDP,” he said.

On August 2, the Cuban government for the first time published details of its foreign exchange earnings from services such as telecommunications, hotels, health and education assistance, in an apparent concession to creditors. The biggest export earner in 2018 was health services at $6.4 billion, followed by “support services” at $1.3 billion while hotel and related services garnered $970 million, followed by telecommunications at $722 million and transportation and support services, which includes everything from airlines to docking fees, at around $600 million. Total exports were $18.6 billion in 2013 and $14.5 billion last year, down from $18.6 billion in 2013. Imports fell from $15.6 billion to $12.6 billion.

All of these developments have resulted in an increase in the country’s foreign debt from $11.9 billion in 2013 to $18.2 billion in 2016, an increase of almost 53% percent.

Cuba Introduces Price Controls[6]

In early July  President Miguel Diaz-Canel announced that the government had adopted a series of emergency measures to fight economic stagnation and dwindling foreign currency earnings that began in 2015 as the economy of key ally Venezuela imploded, and that have been aggravated by a series of new U.S. sanctions. The measures included increased wages and pensions for more than 2 million state employees, amounting to more than 8 billion pesos annually, or close to 13 percent of this year’s budget. The President also said there will be price controls and policies aimed at stimulating local production to meet increased consumer demand without sparking inflation.

The other shoe dropped on July 30, when the President announced a ban on all retail and wholesale price increases except for products imported and distributed by the state where already-set profit margins cannot be increased. In recent weeks, regional authorities have slapped price controls on taxi fares, beverages and haircuts, among other items. The price controls differ from province to province.

These price controls are especially difficult for the private sector.

For example, on August 15, retail prices in Havana were set for some basic foods such as beans, pork, lemons, bananas, onions and cabbage. The retail price of pork, a staple of the Cuban diet, was set at 45 pesos a pound, although market sellers said it previously went for some 65 pesos a pound. And farmers still charge 28 pesos a pound for pork. Another example is lemons, which used to sell for 30 pesos a pound,  now has a new maximum price of 10 to 15 pesos, which is the same price that farmers charge for the lemons.

On August 12, Cuba  Minister of Finance and Prices, Meisi Bolaños, stated, “We are going to be rigorous with those who try, by means of devices, to evade and violate the new measures approved to avoid the increase in prices. . . . We cannot allow that measures like these that the country approves to boost the  economy and generate greater capacity to buy in the population to be spoiled by a few unscrupulous that cause Cubans to lose confidence in state control.” The Minister also denied that the purpose of the measures is “to stop the development of non-state forms.”

Economists assert that such price controls are ineffective. Andrew Zimbalist, a Cuba expert at U.S.’s Smith College, said, “Such measures are usually okay for short periods of time, but if they stay in place they begin to create serious distortions in the economy.” A similar opinion was expressed by Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank economist who teaches at Colombia’s Universidad Javeriana Cali. He said, “The more they control prices in formal markets, the more inflation and instability there will be in informal markets and the less incentive the productive sector has.”

Experts also have criticized Cuba’s verbose regulations of the private sector that were introduced at the end of 2018. They concluded that these “regulations approved by the Council of Ministers were written in reverse: excessive documents (29) and processes that represent obstacles in the application process for licenses, cracking down on violations, excessive inspections, the definition of twenty-two oversight agencies for the private sector (with specific departments to deal with them), the new requirement of a bank account with two months’ worth of taxes as credit in this account, needing to pay payroll taxes from the very first employee, etc.”

Conclusion

 Obviously Cuba is in a very perilous situation that the U.S. has helped to create. All who support normalization of the two countries relations need to voice their opinions to their senators and representatives and to Trump Administration officials.

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[1] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[2] E.g., Sabatinni, Trump Doubles Down on Failed Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (July 24, 2019); U.S. Updates Cuba Restricted List (July 26, 2019); U.S. State Dep’t, State Department Updates the Cuba Restricted List (July 26, 2019); U.S. State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba as of July 26, 2019 (July 26, 2019); New U.S. Government Hostility Towards Cuba’s Medical Mission Program, dwkcommentareis.com (Aug. 14, 2019); “U.S. (Trump) and Cuba, 2016-2017,”  “U.S. (Trump) and Cuba (2018),” “U.S. (Trump) and Cuba, 2019,” “U.S. Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals, 2019,” “Cuba, Venezuela and U.S., 2019,”  “Cuba Restricted List, 2019,”  “ Helms-Burton Act Title III Authorization, 2019” and U.S. Embargo of Cuba, 2019” sections  in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

[3] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: New Bill To End U.S. Embargo of Cuba (Feb. 9, 2019); Senator Leahy’s Senate Floor Speech To End Embargo of Cuba (Feb. 18, 2019); Congressional Bipartisan Bills for Reversal of U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba (Aug. 13, 2019).

[4] Sesin, In Cuba, entrepreneurs see a steep decline with Trump policies, NBC News (July 6, 2019); Cuba Says Fuel Shortage, Blackouts Are Temporary, Being Fixed, Reuters (July 19, 2019); Frank, Cuba hopes for slight growth as Trump pummels Caribbean island, Reuters (July 13, 2019).

[5]  Kuritzkes, The End of Cuba’s Entrepreneurship Boom, Foreign Policy (July 15, 2019); The decline in tourism from the United States to Cuba already feels strongly on island, France23 (July 18, 2019);Taylor, Cubans Talk About Impact of Trump Administration Travel Policy Changes, Travel Pulse (July 22, 2019); Myers, A Visit To Cuba Reveals Economic Pain of Trump’s Travel Ban, Travel Weekly (July 29, 2019); Eaton, Cuba Trying to Attract Tourists and Investors Even as U.S. Clamps Down, Tampa Bay Times (July 30, 2019); Reuters, Cuba Reveals Health, Hotel, Other Service Earnings, N.Y. Times (Aug. 2, 2019); Whitefield, Cuba Feels the Pinch of the Trump administration’s travel restrictions, L.A. Times (Aug. 11, 2019); Torres, Cuba’s foreign debt is on the rise despite big profits from medical services abroad, Miami Herald (Aug. 12, 2019);Myers, Taking the pulse of demand for Cuba travel, Travel Weekly (Aug. 13, 2019); The Cuban economy is increasingly indebted, official figures reveal, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 15, 2019).

[6] The Government of Havana sets maximum prices for sale of products, Cubadebate (July 28, 2019); Frank, Cuba, battling economic crisis, imposes sweeping price controls, Reuters (July 30, 2019); Vela, Cuba’s Price Control Is Short-Term Fix To Production Problems, Economist Says, ABC10 News  (July 30, 2019); Fuentes Puebla & Romeo Matos, Price control, a necessary complement to the salary increase in the budgeted sector, Cubadebate (Aug. 1, 2019); The Cuban Government warns that it will be relentless in the face of ‘artifice’ to avoid its price cap, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 13, 2019); Reuters, Cuban Government Imposes Price Controls as It Seeks to Keep Lid on Inflation, N.Y. Times (Aug. 15, 2019); Fernandez, It’s a Long and Winding Road for Cuba’s Private Sector, Havana Times (Aug. 15, 2019).

 

 

Cuban Reactions to New U.S. Anti-Cuba Measures

Naturally the Cuban government and its officials condemned the new U.S. measures. Other Cubans voiced various opinions on this subject.

Cuban Government[1]

“Today, the 17th of April, we celebrate another anniversary of the start of the military aggression at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) in 1961. The decisive response of the Cuban people in defense of the Revolution and socialism resulted in the first military defeat of imperialism in the Americas, in just 72 hours. Oddly enough, it is the date chosen by the current government of the United States to announce the adoption of new aggressive measures against Cuba and to reinforce the application of the Monroe Doctrine.”

“The Revolutionary Government rejects in the most energetic of terms the decision to permit hereinafter that action is taken in US courts against Cuban and foreign entities outside the jurisdiction of the United States, and that of intensifying the impediments for entry into the United States of the executives of companies that legally invest in Cuba and their relatives in properties that were nationalized.  These are actions envisaged in the Helms-Burton Act that were rejected a long time ago by the international community, that the Cuban nation has repudiated from the time when they were enacted and applied in 1996, and whose fundamental aim is to impose colonial protection over our country. Cuba also repudiates the decision to return to limiting the remittances which Cuban residents in the US send to their families and next of kin, to restrict even further travel by American citizens to Cuba and to apply additional financial penalties.”

“It energetically rejects the references that in Cuba attacks have been produced against American diplomats. They would like to justify their actions, as usual, using lies and blackmail. On last 10 April, General of the Army Raúl Castro declared: ‘Cuba is blamed for all evils, using lies in the worst style of Hitlerian propaganda.’To cover up and justify the evident failure of the sinister coup d’ét maneuver of designating, from Washington, a usurper “president” for Venezuela, the government of the United States resorts to slander.”

“It accuses Cuba of being responsible for the soundness and steadfastness shown by the Bolivarian and Chavista government, the people of that country and the civilian-military union which defends the sovereignty of their nation. It brazenly lies when it declares that Cuba keeps thousands of troops and security forces in Venezuela, influencing and determining what is happening in that sister country.”

“It has the cynicism of blaming Cuba for the economic and social situation besetting Venezuela after years of brutal economic penalties, conceived and applied by the United States and a number of allies, precisely to economically suffocate the population and to cause its suffering. Washington has gone to the extremes of pressuring the governments of third countries to attempt to persuade Cuba to withdraw this presumed and unlikely military and security support and even for it to stop providing backing and solidarity to Venezuela. The current US government is known, in its own country and internationally, for its unscrupulous tendency of using lies as a resort in domestic and foreign policy matters.   This is a habit coinciding with the old practices of imperialism.”

“Still fresh in our minds are the images of President George W. Bush, with the support of the current National Security Advisor John Bolton, lying shamelessly about the supposed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a fallacious argument that served as an excuse to invade that country in the Middle East.”

“History also records the blowing up of the battleship “Maine” in Havana and the self-provoked incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, episodes that served as excuses to unleash wars of pillage in Cuba and Vietnam. We should not forget that the United States used fake Cuban insignia painted on the planes that carried out the bombing runs as a prelude to the aggression at the Bay of Pigs, in order to cover up the fact that they were really American planes”

“It must remain clear that US slander rests upon complete and deliberate lies. Its intelligence services possess more than enough proof, surely more than any other State, to know that Cuba has no troops nor does it participate in any operations of a military or security nature in Venezuela, even though it is a sovereign right of two independent countries to decide how they shall cooperate in the sector of defense, something that does not correspond to the United States to question. That accuser keeps over 250,000 soldiers on 800 military bases abroad, some of these in the American hemisphere.”

“Their government also knows that, as Cuba has publicly and repeatedly declared, the nearly 20,000 Cuban collaborators, over 60 % of them women, are in that Latin American nation to fulfill the same tasks that approximately another 11,000 Cuban professionals are fulfilling in 83 nations:   contributing to provide basic social services, fundamentally in the area of health, a fact that is acknowledged by the international community. It must remain absolutely clear that steadfast solidarity with the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is Cuba’s right as a sovereign State and it is also a right that forms part of the tradition and essential principles of the foreign policy of the Cuban Revolution.”

“No threats of reprisals against Cuba, no ultimatum or blackmail by the current US government is going to divert the internationalist conduct of the Cuban nation, despite the devastating human and economic damages caused our people by the genocidal blockade.”

“It behooves us to remember that Mafioso threats and ultimatums were already being used in the past when Cuba’s internationalist efforts were supporting the liberation movements in Africa while the US was backing the scurrilous regime of apartheid. They would have liked Cuba to renounce its commitments of solidarity with the peoples of Africa in exchange for promises of pardon, as if the Revolution had anything whatsoever that needed to be pardoned by imperialism.”

“At that time, Cuba rejected blackmail, as it rejects it today, with utmost disdain.”

“Last April 10th, General of the Army Raúl Castro recalled: ‘In 60 years of facing aggression and threats, we Cubans have demonstrated the iron-clad will to resist and overcome the most difficult of circumstances. Despite its immense power, imperialism does not have the capacity to crush the dignity of a united people, who are proud of their history, and of the freedom they have attained by the strength of so much sacrifice.’”

“The Government of Cuba calls on all members of the international community and on the citizens of the United States to stop the irrational escalation and the policy of hostility and aggression of the government of Donald Trump. With complete justification, year after year the Member States of the United Nations have called practically unanimously for the end to this economic war.  The peoples and governments of our region must see to it that, for the benefit of all, the principles of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace prevail.”

“Last April 13th, the President of the Councils of State and Ministers Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez declared: ‘Cuba continues to trust in its strength, its dignity and also in the strength and dignity of other independent and sovereign nations.  But it also continues to believe in the American people, in the Land of Lincoln, that they should be ashamed of those who act on the fringes of universal law on behalf of the entire American nation.’ Once again, Cuba repudiates the lies and threats, and reiterates that its sovereignty, independence and commitment to the cause of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean are not negotiable.”

“Two days away from commemorating the 58th anniversary of the Playa Girón Victory, a historical point in national geography where the mercenary forces sent by imperialism tasted the dust of defeat, the Cuban Revolution reiterates its firm determination to face up to and prevail over the escalated aggression of the United States.”

Cuban Government Officials[2]

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel responded defiantly with these tweets: ‘Cubans do not surrender, nor do we accept laws about our destinies that are outside the Constitution. In Cuba we Cubans will not change the attitude towards those who hold the sword against us.’ He added,  ‘No one will rip the (Fatherland) away from us, neither by seduction nor by force, We Cubans do not surrender.’’”

In another tweet, Diaz-Canel said,  ‘Title III is not worse than the I and II, which are in the portfolio of actions against all the people of Cuba, Cubans do not give up.”

Also initially responding with tweets was Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He “called it an attack on international law, Cuban sovereignty and countries that would do business with the island: Aggressive escalation by US against Cuba will fail. Like at Giron, we will be victorious.’”

On state television, Rodriguez said, ‘”We will always be willing to have a dialogue based on absolute respect, but if the U.S. government has chosen a confrontational path we will not hesitate to defend the gains of the revolution at any cost.’” According to Rodríguez, ‘These decisions of Washington are an aggressive escalation of the US against Cuba that ‘will fail.’”

In another tweet, he also repudiated the ‘aggressive discourse, calumnies and measures to intensify the blockade announced by the US National Security Adviser [Bolton that] constitute a new aggression against the people of Cuba, the American people, Cuban emigration and sovereign states.’”

.”’But now there are nefarious interests in the government of that country, an increasingly monopoly, more McCarthyist policy against Our America and against our people, based on true slander.’”

“’We, of course, will not give up one bit of our principles. We will continue our solidarity support to the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and we will follow the course that our people, now in a free and universal referendum, has confirmed towards an increasingly just, advanced, increasingly inclusive Cuban socialism and the foreign policy of the Revolution Cubans will continue to be the same, as the Constitution confirms. Our principles are unchangeable and invariable.’”

  Other Cubans[3]

The most cogent opinion on these issues was provided by Rafael Rojas, who is one of Cuba’s most distinguished historians with many publications and the holder of university positions around the world. He wrote the following 10 objections to what he calls “the Bolton Doctrine” in Madrid’s El Pais.

  • “1. In the conflict between the United States, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the symbolic dimension weighs heavily. From Washington, Havana, Caracas, Managua and, of course, Miami, these differences are assumed as inertias or continuations of the Cold War. But in most of the world this is not the case: the conflict between communism and anti-communism is marginal on the planetary level. To have announced the new policy in Miami, on the anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, is to persist in that local, archaic entanglement that favors Manichaeism and the binary visions of contemporary politics.”
  • “ The announcement of the new measures from Miami, by Bolton, reinforces a double and harmful subordination: that of the policy towards Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba to the sphere of the “national security” of the United States and that of the Washington agenda for those countries to the electoral cycles in the state of Florida.”
  • “ The sanctions against the three regimes adopt a totally unilateral sense at a time when various global institutions and diplomatic initiatives (OAS, UN, Lima Group, International Contact Group of the European Union, Prosur, Uruguayan and Mexican chanceries) try to arrange multilateral actions to face the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan crisis.”
  • “ During the last two decades, the US Department of State has maintained a differentiated policy for Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. It is evident that these regimes act coordinated in a permanent strategy of promoting authoritarian alternatives to democracy in the hemisphere, but, at the same time, the differences between the three political systems, the peculiarities of their respective relations with civil society and society are indisputable [as are] the opposition and nuances of its international commitments and Government priorities.”
  • “The definition of these regimes as “troika of tyrannies” is not only a theoretical simplification, that almost the whole of Latin America and the European Union, plus the UN, China and India, Africa and the Middle East do not share, but an incentive to the deployment of a greater diplomatic and military collaboration of those governments among themselves and with their allies in the world, especially Russia and Iran.”
  • “The application of Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act, passed in 1996, had been postponed by all the governments of the United States until now: the second by Bill Clinton, the two by George W. Bush and the two of Barack Obama [and the two??? by Trump]. The reason was always a mixture of recognition of the global unpopularity of the embargo against Cuba and the complications that could arise in relations with Europe, Canada, Latin America and Asia, in case of demands to companies from those regions that operated in Cuba with confiscated properties. The thousands of cases of Cuban-American citizens that will be presented before the US justice system, in addition to being complicated and burdensome, will generate costs at the international level, as already observed with the European Union’s appeal to the World Trade Organization (WTO).”
  • “Restrictions on American tourist trips and remittances from Cuban-Americans from the United States will not only affect the income of Miguel Diaz Canel’s government: they will also damage the small market sphere that attempts to articulate within the island. The new policy towards Cuba returns to the old paradox of the republican right to promote capitalism, closing the external ways by which capitalism can reproduce itself.”
  • “The sanctions against the Central Bank of Venezuela continue the punitive strategy undertaken so far by the Trump administration against the financial networks of the Government of Nicolás Maduro. Who announces that measure in Miami is the same one that recently proposed the sending of 5,000 soldiers to the border between Colombia and Venezuela and the same government that already openly complains about the inability of its ally, President Ivan Duque [Colombia’s current president], to reduce drug trafficking.”
  • “ The measures against the Government of Daniel Ortega also try to affect the sources of income of the Sandinista State, through the freezing of funds from the Corporate Bank of Nicaragua and the official investment and export agency, ProNicaragua, headed by the son of the presidential couple, Laureano Ortega Murillo. So far, this type of personalized sanctions has not yielded results in Cuba or Venezuela, in terms of promoting greater economic and political openness. Daniel Ortega, a leader so discredited by the Latin American left, gains prestige with the Bolton doctrine.”
  • “ The purpose of the unilateral US offensive against Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua is not, apparently, a flexibilization but a breakdown of those regimes. But for that to happen, unlikely scenarios would have to occur: a military uprising in Venezuela, a coup in Nicaragua or a popular uprising in Cuba. In a possible conjuncture of simultaneous economic asphyxia in the three countries should not rule out a greater cohesion against the external enemy, despite the greater or lesser wear and tear of their respective leaders. Not even the collapse of one of those regimes would necessarily mean the collapse of the other two.”

Another article critical of the new U.S. measures in tones similar to those  expressed by the Cuban government and its officials appears in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba.

On the other hand, some Cubans disagreed with the Cuban government’s lengthy and vitriolic attacks on the new U.S. measures. These articles were an editorial in Diario de Cuba and one of its articles by Elias Amor; this Internet periodical is published in Madrid, Spain and says that “the  views expressed are not those of any government, nor of any corporate entity other than K&M Productions, LLC, of Boston, Massachusetts.”

A surprising opinion on the new U.S. policies was voiced by Antonio Rodiles, a member of the Cuban opposition, when saying he supported the new U.S. restrictions. “”Pressure is needed. In what other way will it be possible to stop a regime like this? I do not see another Possibility.”

Conclusion[4]

 The lengthy declaration by the Cuban Government was to be expected. Criticism of the official position of the Cuban Government on these issues from  Dario de Cuba was also to be expected as it always publishing such pieces and makes one wonder whether it secretly is funded by the U.S. government.

Most persuasive are the 10 reasons advanced by respected historian Rafael Rojas. I agree that the speech by John Bolton seems erroneously anchored in the views of the Cold War, which has been over for some time; that the new measures seem derived from U.S. political concerns about the state of Florida in national politics; that the new measures totally ignore multilateral efforts to solve the many issues in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua; that the new U.S. measures encourage these three countries to seek help from Russia and Iran; that the previous U.S. waiver of enforcement of provisions of the Hale-Burton Act were based on realistic assessments that the related U.S. embargo of Cuba was rejected by virtually every country in the world whereas enforcement of those provisions of the Act would generate costs at the international level, including tension with U.S. allies; that the restriction of U.S. remittances and travel to Cuba will harm emerging Cuban free enterprise; and that the true purpose of these new U.S. measures does not appear to encourage actions consistent with U.S. interests, but instead to cause a breakdown of their regimes.

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[1] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Declaration of the Revolutionary Government of Cuba: The Cuban revolution reiterates its firm determination to face the escalation in aggression by the United States (April 18, 2019).

[2] Solomon, Reichmann & Lee (AP), Trump Cracks Down on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); DeYoung, Trump administration announces new measures against Cuba, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); Reuters, Trump’s Cuba Hawks Try to Squeeze Havana Over Venezuela Role, N.Y. Times ( April 17, 2019).

[3] Rojas, Ten Objections to the Bolton doctrine, El Pais (April 18, 2019); Capote, Let’s talk Cuban about the Helms-Burton, Granma (April 17, 2019); Editorial, The Helms-Burton Act and the responsibility of the Cuban regime, Diario de Cuba (April 18, 2019); Amor, Will the Cubans be impoverished by the Helms-Burton Law?, Diario de Cuba (April 20, 2019).

[4] As always corrections and opinions about this post are welcome. Are there any other significant Cuban statements on these new U.S. measures? If so, add them in comments to this post.

Cuba’s Current Dire Economic Situation 

In the midst of the flurry of recent commentary about the new U.S. policies regarding  Cuba, including this blog’s current exploration of the many facets of those policies, it is easy to ignore or forget Cuba’s very difficult current economic situation, which only will be made worse by these U.S. policies. Here is some information about that economy.[1]

According to the Associated Press, “After two decades of relative stability fueled by cheap Venezuelan oil, shortages of food and medicine have once again become a serious daily problem for millions of Cubans. A plunge in aid from Venezuela, the end of a medical services deal with Brazil and poor performances in sectors including nickel mining, sugar and tourism have left the communist state $1.5 billion in debt to the vendors that supply products ranging from frozen chicken to equipment for grinding grain into flour, according to former Economy Minister José Luis Rodríguez.”

“That economy is afflicted by deep inefficiency and corruption. Many state employees demand bribes to provide services to the public. Others spend only a few hours a day at their jobs, spending the rest of their time doing informal private work or selling supplies stolen from their office, warehouse or factory. Despite a highly educated and generally well-qualified workforce, Cuba’s industrial sector is dilapidated after decades of under-investment. The country produces little of value on the global market besides rum, tobacco and the professionals who earn billions for the government working as doctors, teachers or engineers in friendly third countries.”

“The agricultural sector is in shambles, requiring the country to import most of its food. Economy Minister Alejandro Gil said Saturday that Cuba would spend $5 billion on food and petroleum products this year.”

“Over the last 20 years, many of those billions came from Venezuela’s socialist government, which has deep ties to Cuba’s and sent nearly 100,000 barrels of oil daily for years. With Venezuela’s economic collapse, that has roughly halved, along with deep cutbacks in the economic relationship across the board. And the news has been bad in virtually every other sector of the Cuban economy. Nickel production has dropped from 72,530 metric tons in 2011 to 50,000 last year, according to Rodríguez, the former economics minister. The sugar harvest dropped nearly 44%, to a million tons. The number of tourists grew only 1%, with many coming on cruise ships, a relatively unprofitable type of visitor. Overall GDP growth has been stuck at 1% for the last three years.”

“Meanwhile, under agreements Castro struck to rehabilitate Cuba’s creditworthiness, the country is paying $2 billion in debt service to creditors such as Russia, Japan and the Paris Club.”

“Stores no longer routinely stock eggs, flour, chicken, cooking oil, rice, powdered milk and ground turkey, among other products. These basics disappear for days or weeks. Hours-long lines appear within minutes of trucks showing up with new supplies. Shelves are empty again within hours.”

“No one is starving in Cuba, but the shortages are so severe that ordinary Cubans and the country’s leaders are openly referring to the ‘special period,”’the years of economic devastation and deep suffering that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s Cold War patron.”

“‘It’s not about returning to the harshest phase of the special period of the ’90s,’ Communist Party head Raul Castro said last week. ‘But we always have to be ready for the worst.’”

“Two days later, President Miguel Díaz-Canel said cutbacks were necessary because: ‘This harsh moment demands we set clearly defined priorities in order to not return to the worst moments of the special period.’’”

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[1] Assoc. Press, Shortages Hit Cuba, Raising Fears of New Economic Crisis, N.Y. Times (April 18, 2019).

 

 

New U.S. Sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela

On April 5, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Venezuela and Cuba. The sanctions are on 34 vessels owned or operated by Venezuelan state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A, or PDVSA , and also on two companies and a vessel that delivered oil to Cuba in February and March. The announcement stated, “The United States continues to take strong action against the illegitimate regime of former President Nicolas Maduro, not only to isolate corrupt Venezuelan enterprises, but also to target Maduro’s supporters in Havana who continue to enable the oppression of the people of Venezuela.” [1]

The announcement further said, “The relationship between Cuba and Venezuela hinges on a two-decade long political, security, and economic alliance, particularly given Cuba’s reliance on a barter system for Venezuelan oil imports.  Cuba is a major importer of crude oil from Venezuela, and in return, sends assistance to Venezuela in the form of political advisors, intelligence and military officials, and medical professionals, all of whom are used to ensure Maduro’s hold on power and complete social control over the people of Venezuela.  Cuba’s influence has contributed to Venezuela’s failure.  Maduro continues to send aid to Cuba as Venezuelans suffer from a deepening humanitarian crisis while denying entry to food, medicine, and other supplies provided by the United States and our allies and partners.”

“As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these entities, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated entities, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC [Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control]. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.”

The Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, said, “Treasury is taking action against vessels and entities transporting oil, providing a lifeline to keep the illegitimate Maduro regime afloat. Cuba continues to profit from, and prop up, the illegitimate Maduro regime through oil-for-repression schemes as they attempt to keep Maduro in power. The United States remains committed to a transition to democracy in Venezuela and to holding the Cuban regime accountable for its direct involvement in Venezuela’s demise.”

Vice President Mike Pence also voiced support for these new measures on April 5, actually just before their official announcement.. He said, “The United States will continue to exert all diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy, calling oil shipments “the lifeblood of that corrupt regime” with its oil shipments being “the lifeblood of that corrupt regime.”Pence also called Cuba’s “leaders as the “real imperialists” in the Western Hemisphere, adding: “The time has come to liberate Venezuela from Cuba.”[2]

Cuban President Díaz-Canel immediately responded to these new sanctions. He tweeted, The U.S. “sanctioned Friday vessels and companies involved in the transportation of fuel between [Cuba and Venezuela], a legal activity and covered by trade agreements. These measures are an act of extraterritoriality, interference and imperial arrogance.”[3]

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[1] Treasury Dept, Press Release: Treasury Sanctions Companies Operating in the Oil Sector of the Venezuelan Economy and Transporting Oil to Cuba (April 5, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Targets Cuba’s Oil Supply From Venezuela in New Sanctions, N.Y. Times (April 5, 2019).

[2] Reuters, U.S. ratchets Up Pressure on Venezuela, Cuban Backers, N.Y. Times (April 6, 2019).

[3] Diaz-Canel qualified as an act of extraterritoriality, interference and imperial arrogance, the recent sanctions against Venezuela and Cuba, Granma (April 6, 2019).

 

 

Another Two Week Suspension of Title III of the Helms Burton Act

On April 3, the U.S. Department of State stated, “Today, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo announced his decision to continue for two weeks, from April 18 through May 1, 2019, the current suspension with an exception of the right to bring an action under Title III of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act. The current suspension expires April 17.” The statement also noted that the  Suspension does not apply to: the “right to bring an action against a Cuban entity or sub-entity identified by name on the State Department’s List of Restricted Entities and Sub-entities Associated with Cuba (known as the Cuba Restricted List), as may be updated from time to time.“ [1]

The Department’s statement added, “The Department continues to examine human rights conditions in Cuba, including ongoing repression of the rights of the Cuban people to free speech, free expression and free assembly. The Department is also monitoring Cuba’s continued military, security, and intelligence support to Nicolas Maduro, who is responsible for repression, violence, and a man-made humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.” Therefore, “We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting the Cuban dictatorship.”

Comments at U.S. Reception Honoring NATO

Perhaps this U.S. statement was made at this time because the U.S. was hosting a celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary with representatives of other NATO members, many of whom object to the prospect of U.S. litigation against foreign firms for using Cuban property formerly owned by U.S. nationals. [2]

One prominent spokesman of such objections was Spain’s Foreign Minister Joseph Borrell, who said his country “has told the U.S. administration that Spain is concerned about Washington’s potential decision to allow U.S. citizens to sue foreign firms doing business in Cuba.” The Spanish message included “its firm rejection, as a matter of principle, to the extraterritorial application of national sanction laws, considering it contrary to international law,” This was the Foreign Minister’s message on April 1 to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and on April 3 to U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton.[3]

Canadian Foreign Minister Cryslia Freeland also met with Secretary Pompeo on this occasion and told him that “the Government of Canada will defend the interests of Canadians conducting legitimate trade and investment with Cuba, if the United States enforces Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.” [4]

 Cuba’s Reactions [5]

After the announcement of the new two-week suspension, Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez issued the following two tweets:

  • The first said (per Google Translate), “I reject the announcement of . . . [Secretary Pompeo] about #HelmsBurton law, an aberration that should never have existed. [It] violates International Law, damages all #Cuba, each family. 191 countries claim to be eliminated in its entirety. US aggression against #Venezuela must cease without further pretexts.” ·
  • The second (again per Google Translate) said the following: “The Helms-Burton Act is not applicable in #Cuba or against Cubans or foreigners. It’s “Monroeist” [Monroe Doctrine] domination purpose arouses the overwhelming rejection of the international community. The new measures are isolating the #US even more. They will fail to achieve their goals.”

Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz=Canel, also tweeted on this development. He said (per Google Translate): “We reject the #EEUU announcement on #HelmsBurton law. They persist in the threats, with arrogance they pose a genocidal law that violates International Law, condemns #Cuba and Cuban families. 191 countries demand [in U.N. General Assembly] that it be eliminated in its entirety. #SomosCuba”

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[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo Extends for Two Weeks Title III Suspension with an Exception (LIBERTAD Act) (April 3, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Remarks at the Reception to Celebrate NATO’s 70th Anniversary (April 3, 2019); State Dep’t, Briefing on the Upcoming NATO Ministerial (April 2, 2019).

[3] Reuters, Spain Rejects Possible U.S. Lawsuits Against Foreign Firms in Cuba, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2019); Guimōn,  The US repeals and prolongs the suspension of a law that would toughen the embargo on Cuba, El Paīs (April 3, 2019).

[4] Gomez,  Canada will defend its investments in Cuba if the United States applies title III of Helms-Burton, CubaDebate (April 4, 2019); Readout of Foreign Affairs Minister’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State, Global Affairs Canada (April 4, 2019).

[5] Havana rejects the new partial suspension of the Helms-Burton, DiariodeCuba (April 4, 2019).

 

 

Cuban Doctors in Venezuela Provide Political Support to Maduro: New York Times   

Page 1 of the Sunday New York Times for March 17 contained the start of a lengthy report that at least some of the Cuban doctors on medical missions in Venezuela had been ordered not to use oxygen for medical emergencies, but instead to use them closer to the May 2018 election as a means of forcing patients to vote for Nicolás Maduro for president.[1]

The Times Report

According to 16 Cuban doctors who were interviewed by the Times, there was “a system of deliberate political manipulation in which their services were wielded to secure votes for the governing Socialist Party, often through coercion. Many tactics were used, they said, from simple reminders to vote for the government to denying treatment for opposition supporters with life-threatening ailments.”

In addition, “the Cuban doctors said they were ordered to go door-to-door in impoverished neighborhoods, offering medicine and warning residents that they would be cut off from medical services if they did not vote for Mr. Maduro or his candidates. . . . [Many of these Cuban doctors] said their superiors directed them to issue the same threats during closed-door consultations with patients seeking treatment for chronic diseases.” One doctor also said “she and others were told to give precise voting instructions to elderly patients, whose infirmities made them particularly easy to manipulate.”

“One former Cuban supervisor said that she and other foreign medical workers were given counterfeit identification cards to vote in an election. “

Prior to publication of this article, the Venezuelan government did not respond to the Times’ journalist while the Cuban government denied the above assertions by the doctors and bragged about the work of many Cuban medical missions around the world.

Cuban Response [2]

On March 19 CubaDebate, an official website of the Cuban government, mounted the following vigorous attack on the Times” article:

  • “In a meager exercise of journalism that says so much to defend, NYTimes forgets the contrast of sources and does not interview any Cuban doctor in practice in Venezuela, does not talk to any patient, does not seek the opinion of the management of the Cuban Medical Brigade.”
  • “Objectivity is not necessary when the clear propaganda objective is to align with the retrograde forces that in the United States seek, by any means, regime change in Venezuela. The same ones that want to see the government of Maduro, supported by millions of Venezuelans, as a regime that is only sustained by the support of the military command and the Cuban government.”
  • “They are the same forces that promoted the outrageous theft of Cuban medical personnel around the world, with the brazen [U.S. Medical} Parole program [for Cuban medical professionals] which Marco Rubio and others now intend to reactivate, in his fierce and failed anti-Cuban campaign. It is not strange then that Senator Marco Rubio left yesterday hurriedly to tweet the work of Mr. Casey as a sign of the “decisive Cuban influence in Venezuela.” Or that [new Senator] Rick Scott has put on his Twitter account, in Spanish and English, ‘Using medicine as a political weapon to intimidate patients to vote for the dictator of Nicolas Maduro is outrageous, inhuman and disgusting.” Where we see chaos and instability in Latin America, we also see the traces of the Castro regime. This has to end! ‘”
  • “The disgusting and what has to end is the lie as political practice and communication in the empire; what has to end is the alleged attempt from Washington to impose its designs on the rest of the world.”
  • “No true Cuban doctor denies the service and much less risks the life of a patient to achieve political ends. They do not do it in Cuba with the mercenaries financed by the United States to try to destroy the Revolution, nor did they do it with the mercenaries who invaded us through the Ciénaga de Zapata in 1961; least they will do it abroad, where tens of thousands have come to offer their solidarity and knowledge.”
  • “ On the contrary, the . . .[performance] of Cuban health workers in dozens of countries around the world has been exemplary, where they have saved millions of lives and cured millions of other patients. No other nation on the planet cares for so many patients outside its borders. Its work has been rewarded by governments, parliaments, NGOs and even the World Health Organization itself.”
  • “Since the Cuban medical collaboration began in Venezuela, more than 140,000 health workers have worked there. Thanks to this effort, at the end of 2018, 127 million 168 thousand medical consultations were carried out throughout the South American nation and at the beginning of 2019, 2,000 new Cuban doctors joined the Barrio Adentro mission to strengthen the health care of the Venezuelan people.”
  • “In 55 years, Cuba has fulfilled 600,000 internationalist missions in 164 nations, in which more than 400,000 health workers have participated, who in many cases have fulfilled this honorable task on more than one occasion.”
  • “The New York Times publishes these propaganda pieces in the Gobbelian style. The extensive and admirable mission of Cuban doctors throughout the world is much more powerful than the gross lies.”

The same day (March 19) Cuba President Díaz-Canel criticized the Times ‘article in this tweet (translated from Spanish): “Cuban [medicos] can never be slandered. Their extraordinary human work on lands that the empire calls “dark corners of the world”, deny the [Times] and its reporter Casey. Feeding Marco Rubio’s hate war against Cuba and Venezuela is a crime. #SomosCuba.”

The Times Response [3]

The Times immediately responded to these Cuban criticisms with the following tweet (translated from Spanish): “Our story is based on interviews with 16 members of Cuba’s medical missions in Venezuela, who described a political manipulation system in which their services were used to get votes for the ruling party. We Back our story. This kind of rigorous journalism is at the core of our work.”

Conclusion

The Times article sets forth very damaging allegations about the Cuban medical professionals in Venezuela. Apparently the allegations are supported by interviews with 16 Cuban medical professionals. The Times also attempted to obtain corroboration from the Venezuelan and Cuban governments with the latter denying the allegations, as reported in the article.

The key question is whether the 16 Cuban medical professionals told the truth to the Times’ journalist.

At least some of these Cubans no longer live or practice in Venezuela, and they might have a motive to lie or shade the truth in order to curry favor from the U.S. government for entry into the U.S., especially if it re-institutes its Parole for Cuban Medical Professionals program, as some Trump Administration officials and U.S. senators have proposed.[4]

On the other hand, the Cuban government has a strong interest in maintaining its lengthy and very supportive relationship with Venezuela, including the maintenance of Maduro as president.

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[1] Casey, Trading Lifesaving Treatment for Maduro Voters, N.Y. Times (Mar. 17, 2019).

[2] Chasing Lies: The New York Times against the ethics of Cuban health, CubaDebate (Mar. 19, 2019); ‘The New York Times’ to Díaz-Canel: ‘Rigorous journalism is the core of our work,’ Diario de Cuba (Mar. 20, 2019)

[3] See n. 2.

[4] See posts listed in the “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” section of List of Posts to dwkcommenies—Topical: CUBA.

Cuba Abandons Rhetorical Restraint in Comments About U.S.

Reuters has concluded that Cuba “has jettisoned rhetorical restraint” in commenting on U.S. policies and threats. [1]

The latest example of this new Cuba approach is its government broadcasting footage of military defense exercises showing “Soviet-era tanks rolling out from mountain caves, soldiers manning anti-aircraft missile batteries, spandex-clad women shooting rifles and factory workers taking up [military defense] positions around their plants.” This is described as training for “The War of the Whole People.”

This Cuban reaction, although lamentable, is understandable ever since the obvious increasing influence of National Security Advisor John Bolton, long known for hostile opinions about Cuba, as evidenced by his speech last November in which he called Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as the “Troika of Tyranny.” More recently the U.S. has been hinting at U.S. military intervention in Venezuela with a possible spill-over against Cuba.

Another sign of Cuba’s “new” approach came last month in a speech by President Diaz-Canel denouncing a Trump speech as “high-handed, cynical, immoral, threatening, offensive, interfering, hypocritical, warlike and dirty.”

The long-simmering dispute between the U.S. and Cuba over the medical problems of some U.S. diplomats, while stationed in Cuba, saw more aggressive Cuban rhetoric on March 14 when Cuba denounced the U.S. continuing to call them “attacks” without any evidence and as part of a broader campaign to damage bilateral relations. Cuba’s director of U.S. affairs at its Foreign Ministry said, “The topic has been highly manipulated politically by the U.S. government, with unfounded accusations, that have been a pretext to take measures against bilateral relations. . . . This manipulation is also serving those who want to reinforce the idea Cuba is a threat and those who opportunistically look to catalog Cuba as a country that sponsors terrorism. It’s a scandal that the State Department is still using the term ‘attacks’ in its statements to the press, with total irresponsibility, This is a national security issue for Cuba, especially when you know the political intentions declared by some [U.S.] individuals, to conduct our relations by a pattern of confrontation.” [2]

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[1] Reuters, In Cuba, Obama’s Detente Becomes History as Trump Threatens, N.Y. Times (Mar. 14, 2019). See also the posts listed in the “U.S. (Trump) and Cuba, 2016-17” and “U.S. (Trump) and Cuba, 2018” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA

[2] Reuters, Cuba Says USA, Not Canada, Manipulating Diplomat Health Incidents, N.Y. Times (Mar. 14, 2019); Assoc. Press, Cubans Again Dispute Claim Attacks Made Diplomats Ill, N.Y. Times (Mar. 14, 2019); Cuba reaffirms that there is no evidence of any sonic attack, Granma (Mar. 14, 2019). See also posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats’ Medical Problems in Cuba, 2016—??” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA