Senator Leahy’s Senate Floor Speech To End Embargo of Cuba

As mentioned in a prior post, on February 7, Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) introduced the Freedom To Export to Cuba Act (S.428) with cosponsors Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) and Michael Enzi (Rep., WY)./

On February 15, Senator Leahy delivered a lengthy and persuasive speech on the Senate floor supporting this bill and ending the embargo. Here is the text of that speech.

After commending Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) for introducing this bill and urging other Senators to support the bill,, Senator Leahy said, “This bill is about ending the anachronistic prohibitions in U.S. law that for decades have limited U.S. engagement with Cuba, including preventing American companies from exporting their products to Cuba.  The fact that legislation to do so is even necessary is illustrative of the absurdity of the situation in which we find ourselves.  Companies from Europe, Russia, China, Mexico, and every other country can sell their products to Cuba, which is just 90 miles from our coast, but American manufacturers and retailers are largely shut out of the Cuban market. . . . This bill would enable American companies to compete, which every believer in a free market should support.”

“It is also important for Senators to know that punitive actions by the Trump Administration last year to further restrict the right of Americans to travel to Cuba have had devastating consequences for Cuba’s fledgling private sector – the very people the White House and supporters of the restrictions profess to want to help.  The fact that they have said nothing about the harm they are causing Cuba’s struggling entrepreneurs demonstrates that they care more about continuing their failed policy of sanctions, regardless of who they hurt, than about helping the Cuban people or about protecting the right of Americans to travel freely.” 

“The latest ill-conceived attempt by the White House to punish Cuba would permit Title III of the Helms-Burton Act to go into effect.  This would allow, among others, individuals who were Cuban citizens when their property in Cuba was expropriated half a century ago to sue in U.S. courts any Cuban, foreign, and even American company whose business in Cuba today uses that property.  That could be an airport, port, warehouse, hotel, restaurant, you name it.  Virtually every American and foreign company investing in Cuba would suddenly be liable for treble damages.”

“The purpose, as the law’s authors made clear when it was enacted 23 years ago, is to harm Cuba’s economy by making it completely inhospitable for foreign investment.”

“As my friend in the House, Representative Jim McGovern (Dem., MA), has pointed out –

  • ‘It’s no mystery why Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump blocked Title III from going into effect every six months for the past 23 years.’
  • ‘It is hypocritical – it penalizes companies for doing what American companies do all over the world.’
  • It is contrary to international law, which recognizes the right of expropriation and requires compensation.’
  • ‘It is an extraterritorial sanction that guarantees a response from our trading partners, like Canada, Spain and the EU, including complaints at the World Trade Organization.’
  • ‘And if you care about agriculture, be warned: It will open a new front in the trade war, with all the repercussions that can bring.’
  • ‘It will allow Cuba to claim victim status and rally international support.’
  • ‘It will clog our courts with lawsuits.’
  • ‘It will make it impossible to negotiate compensation for U.S. claims in Cuba, and, in the end, hurt the very Americans who seek compensation for the property they lost.’
  • ‘It will divide us from friends and allies who are now working for a peaceful solution in Venezuela.’
  • ‘And it will guarantee that new investment in Cuba will come from the Russians, Chinese and others who are hostile to the United States, and whose state-owned companies can’t be sued in U.S. courts.’

“I agree with my friend in the other body [Rep. McGovern].  What the White House is considering would trigger an avalanche of unintended consequences that would bring U.S. commerce with Cuba to a halt, harm relations with our allies in this hemisphere and beyond, and make resolving property claims more difficult.  I ask unanimous consent that a piece by William LeoGrande on Title III of the Helms-Burton Act published in the February 13, 2019 issue of OnCubaNews be printed in the Record following my remarks.” [This article will be published in a separate post to this blog.]

Like “many issues, Members of Congress have strong feelings pro and con about U.S. relations with Cuba.  It is no secret that, after more than half a century of a policy of isolation that has achieved none of its objectives and primarily hurt the Cuban people, I, like Senators Klobuchar and Enzi and many others in this body, favor closer relations.”

“Conversely, there are those in Congress and the Trump Administration who believe strongly that we should ratchet up the pressure on the Cuban government in an attempt to achieve those elusive goals.”

“I have often spoken publicly about the lack of political freedom and civil liberties in Cuba.  But I also think it is important to try to be objective:  to criticize when called for and to acknowledge positive changes when they occur.”

“I recognize that those who favor maintaining the failed economic embargo have a longstanding, visceral antagonism and resentment toward the Cuban government.  While they rarely, if ever, mention the corrupt and brutal Batista regime that enjoyed unqualified U.S. support until it was overthrown in 1959, they have legitimate reasons to criticize the mistreatment of the Cuban people by the current government and its support for the corrupt and repressive Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

“But they too should acknowledge that threatening and bullying Cuba has not worked.  In fact it has made the situation worse, and provided an excuse for the Cuban government to blame its own failures on us.  They should also acknowledge positive changes in Cuba, but they never do.  Not ever.  It is almost as if they are psychologically, ideologically, or emotionally incapable of saying one positive thing about the Cuban government, no matter what positive things it does.”   

“Perhaps they are afraid that if they did, they would alienate their donors in the Cuban-American community.  Of course, we know that Cuban-Americans are divided about the U.S. embargo.  Some are hardcore believers in the embargo, and they always will be.  But at least as many – and increasing numbers – oppose the embargo, especially those who were born after the Cuban revolution.” 

“I wonder what the pro-embargo isolationists would say if the Cuban government were to stop harassing and abusing dissidents who favor a more democratic system.  Would those who oppose the embargo say anything positive?” 

“What if the Cuban government decided to embrace a free market economy and let private businesses flourish?  Would those who oppose the embargo say anything positive?”

“I doubt it.  I doubt it because no matter what positive reforms occur in Cuba, they will continue to defend the embargo until Cuba is a full-fledged democracy and those who currently hold power either die or are voted out of office.” 

“We all want Cuba to become a democracy, where civil and political rights are respected, and the sooner the better.  But those same defenders of the embargo support billions of dollars in U.S. aid – and weapons sales – to countries that are led by authoritarian, brutal, and corrupt dictatorships and monarchies, some of which have held power for decades or generations.”    

“How do the pro-embargo diehards reconcile that?  They don’t and they can’t.”

“The fact is, Cuba is changing.  Not nearly as fast as we and the Cuban people would like, but it is changing in ways that few would have predicted not very long ago.”

“Last year, Raul Castro’s hand-picked successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel, became President and he promised a government more accessible and responsive to the people’s needs.  How he delivers on that promise remains to be seen.”   

“Since 2010, after the Cuban government recognized that the Internet is essential if Cuba wants to be part of the modern world, Internet access has exploded.  The government has opened hundreds of public Wi-Fi hot spots and cyber cafes in the past five years, and home Internet access became legal and available in 2017.  Today, almost half of the Cuban people have personal cell phones that were illegal just a decade ago.”

“As others have pointed out, these changes have encouraged new forms of communication, networking and organizing via social media.”

“But change does not come easily in Cuba, as it does not in many countries.  Last July, the government announced onerous new regulations on the private sector, covering a wide range of issues:  food safety, labor contracts, procurement, taxation, limits on the size of private businesses.  The new rules were an attempt by hardliners to crack down on the private sector, which was criticized for black marketeering.”

“But private entrepreneurs resisted, and they challenged the regulations as contradictory to the government’s own plans that recognizes the private sector as important to economic growth and employment. They appealed to government officials and spoke publicly about the harm the new rules would have on their businesses.”

“When the final regulations were issued, several that had caused the most resentment were dropped.  According to the Minister of Labor and Social Security, the decision to revise the rules was due to ‘the opinion and experiences of those directly involved.’”

“The government also retreated on a new law – Decree 349 – requiring artists, musicians and performers to register with the state and pay a large commission on their earnings from private engagements, and it banned work with objectionable content and empowered inspectors to shut down any offensive exhibition or performance.  Clearly, an attempt to further limit free expression.”

“Since the 1980s, Cuban artists have had more freedom to be critical of the government than other social sectors, and so it was not surprising that Decree 349 ignited widespread protests.  After social media was used to mobilize opposition within the Cuban arts community and among artists abroad, the government agreed not to enforce the law until implementing regulations are drafted in consultation with the arts community.”

“According to one observer, ‘during [the latter half of last year], nearly 8.9 million Cubans debated the draft of a new constitution in their workplaces, neighborhoods and schools.  Communist Party members were told not to argue with even the most radical proposals for amendments, and the ensuing debates were freewheeling, often lasting past their scheduled time.  Among the main topics: whether the president and state governors should be directly elected by voters; whether the concentration of wealth and property should be allowed; whether term limits and age limits for leaders were a good idea; and whether the Communist Party should be subordinated to the constitution and hence the law.”  Not long ago it would have been unthinkable to openly debate these issues, especially as part of a constitutional reform process.”

“One article that attracted intense debate recognized same-sex marriage, and was promoted by Raul Castro’s daughter, a long-time activist for LGBTQ rights. The proposal sparked strong opposition from evangelical churches supported by the Catholic Church.  Gay rights advocates countered with campaigns of their own.  The chance of a significant ‘no’ vote on the entire constitutional reform led the government to drop the provision from the final draft of the constitution with a pledge to consider it later.”

“This surge in mobilization by well-organized constituencies utilizing social media to resist government policy, from burdensome private sector regulations to gay marriage, is unprecedented in Cuba.  The government’s willingness to not only tolerate these organized challenges but to change policies in response to them, is significant. “   

“As has been noted, none of these issues dealt with the rigid structure of the Cuban system.  Cuba remains a one party state, in which those who challenge the system are treated as criminals.  But the precedent of organized interest groups mounting successful campaigns to challenge and change government policy is now established, which is positive.” 

“None of the longstanding critics of the Cuban government in the U.S. Congress or the Cuban-American community [has] acknowledged any of this, nor are they likely too.  For them, anything less than a wholesale change of government in Cuba is unworthy of mention, even though they apply a very different standard – a double standard – to other authoritarian governments.  In fact, they would ridicule anyone who regards such changes as positive or worthy of recognition.”

“As we know from our own experience, political reform is difficult.  Our own Electoral College, an anachronism designed to protect a slave-holding minority, remains in effect more than two centuries later.  Five times, in the world’s oldest democracy, it has prevented the winner of the most popular votes from being elected president.”  

“The Cuban people want to live better and they want a lot less government control over their lives.  Armed with cell phones and the Internet they are going to make increasing demands of their government.  This is happening at a time when Venezuela’s economy is collapsing and the survival of the Maduro regime, Cuba’s closest ally in the hemisphere, is in question.  Not surprisingly, the Cuban government is trying to limit the pace of change and to secure other benefactors.  It is turning increasingly to Russia, Algeria, Iran and other countries that welcome the chance to challenge U.S. influence in this hemisphere.” 

“This is a time for the United States to be actively and visibly engaged in Cuba, for Americans to be traveling to Cuba, for expanding educational, cultural, and professional exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, and for American companies to be competing in Cuba.  It is not a time to return to a failed policy of threats and ultimatums, driven by domestic politics rather than by what is in our national interests.”

“That is why I am cosponsoring the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act.  And it is why I intend to support other bipartisan legislation to replace our failed Cuba policy with one that serves America’s interests, not the interests of a shrinking minority, and not the interests of Russia and other countries that are reaping the economic benefits of our self-defeating policy of isolation.”

Reaction

I concur in the rationale and conclusion of this speech: end the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

While I believe there is valid documentation of the Senator’s assertion that Cuba has limits on free speech and assembly, he views this in isolation from Cuba’s situation. Cuba is a small country facing the vastly larger and more powerful  U.S., which for many years has had various hostile policies and actions against Cuba, including secret and undercover so-called “democracy promotion” programs on the island. In that context, it should be easy to understand why Cuba is concerned about dissidents and free speech and assembly.  Accordingly reliable U.S. assertions about the abolition of so called “democracy promotion” programs on the island should be a precondition to improving Cuban freedoms of speech and assembly.

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Senator Leahy,  Statement of Senator Leahy On the Freedom To Export to Cuba Act (Feb. 15, 2019). 

President Trump Considering Another Hostile Action Against Cuba 

On January 16, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extended for 45 days the right to bring certain lawsuits in U.S. federal courts  by Americans who owned property in Cuba that was confiscated by its government. [1]

The Announcement

The State Department stated that this 45-day extension, instead of the usual six-month extension, “will permit us to conduct a careful review of the right to bring action under Title III [of the Helms-Burton or LIBERTAD Act] in light of the national interests of the United States and efforts to expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba and include factors such as the Cuban regime’s brutal oppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms and its indefensible support for increasingly authoritarian and corrupt regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua.”

This announcement added, “We call upon the international community to strengthen efforts to hold the Cuban government accountable for 60 years of repression of its people. We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting this dictatorship.”

This right to sue was created by Title III of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. It would permit lawsuits against persons who profit from property in Cuba that was expropriated from Americans. For example, there could be hundreds of lawsuits against corporations around the world, such as  Spanish companies that run Cuban hotels as well as Chinese and Turkish firms renovating Cuban ports. Exempt from this provision of  the Act  are U.S. companies involved in U.S. legal travel to Cuba such as AirBnB, airlines and cruise companies. But the exact meaning of this exemption could be tested in litigation, for example, over U.S. and foreign airlines landing at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport, which is built on land expropriated from a family now living in Miami.

Every  U.S. president since the enactment of the Helms-Burton Act, starting with Bill Clinton and including Trump in 2017 and 2018, has suspended Title III, for six months each time, because of its potential to alienate U.S. allies and complicate any future American detente with Cuba. Moreover, not suspending title III would create a huge obstacle to new foreign investment in Cuba.[2]

The most recent extension of only 45 days and the stated reason for this extension raise the real possibility that the Trump Administration will grant no additional suspensions or waivers of Title III and thereby permit such lawsuits.

Reactions to This Announcement[3]

This announcement predictably was applauded by Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL). He said in a tweet that it “is a strong indication of what comes next. If you are trafficking in stolen property in #Cuba, now would be a good time to get out.” A similar opinion was expressed by Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL).

Three U.S. experts on Cuba, however, criticized this possible change. Professor William LeoGrande of American University said, “It would cause an enormous legal mess, anger U.S. allies in Europe and Latin America, and probably result in a World Trade Organization case against the U.S.” He added that the State Department previously had estimated that allowing Title III to go into effect could result in 200,000 or more lawsuits being filed. Another expert, Phil Peters, said, “If they take this decision they will be moving from a policy of limiting U.S. engagement with Cuba to a policy of very actively trying to disrupt the Cuban economy.” The third, Michael Bustamante, assistant professor of history at Florida International University, stated, “Legitimate property claims need to be resolved, but in the context of a bilateral negotiation. Those backing the enforcement of Title III seem most intent on sowing havoc rather than achieving a positive good.”

Cuban authorities naturally had negative reactions to this proposed change. President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Twitter that “we vigorously reject this new provocation, meddling, threatening and bullying, in violation of international law.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez described the announcement as “political blackmail and irresponsible hostility aimed at hardening the blockade on Cuba. The government of President Donald Trump threatens to take a new step that would reinforce, in a dangerous way, the blockade against Cuba, would flagrantly violate International Law and directly attack the sovereignty and interests of third countries. It . . . [is] a hostile act of extreme arrogance and irresponsibility [issued in] the disrespectful and slanderous language of the State Department’s public message.”

Conclusion

This U.S. announcement follows shortly after U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Rubio called for another hostile U.S. action against Cuba—the re-establishment of the U.S. parole policy for Cuban medical professionals, which was criticized in a recent post.[4]

Both of these proposed U.S. actions may well have been promoted or provoked by National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has long-held hostile opinions about Cuba and more recently has called Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua “the Troika of Tyranny.” Moreover, on November 1 in Miami, Bolton said the Administration was “seriously” considering new measures against the Cuban government, including allowing Cuban exiles whose properties were confiscated by the Castro government to file lawsuits in U.S. courts against foreign companies currently using those properties.[5]

Both of these proposed hostile actions by the U.S., in this blogger’s opinion, are ill-advised as unnecessarily creating additional conflicts with a close neighbor, with whom the U.S. should be fostering better relations as was done by President Obama after December 17, 2014.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary’s Determination of 45-Day Suspension Under Title III of LIBERTAD Act (Jan. 16, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Considering  Allowing Lawsuits Over Cuba-Confiscated Properties, N.Y. Times (Jan. 16, 2019); Assoc. Press, Trump Weighs Dramatic Tightening of US Embargo on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 17, 2019).

[2] U.S..State Dep’t, United States Determination of Six Months Suspension under Title III of LIBERTAD Act (July 14, 2017); Lederman, Trump administration again suspends a part of Cuba embargo, Fox News (July 14, 2017); Whitefield, Trump to suspend lawsuit provision of Helms-Burton Act in August, Miami Herald (July 17, 2017); U.S. Continues To Suspend Part of Its Embargo of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (July 20, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, United States Determination of Six Months Suspension under Title III of LIBERTAD Act (Jan. 24, 2018); State Department Creates Cuba Internet Task Force and Suspends Enforcement of Statutory Liability for Trafficking in Certain Cuban Expropriated Property, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 25, 2018); U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary’s Determination of Six Months Suspension under Title III of LIBERTAD Act (June 28, 2018); Whitefield, Trump administration extends ban on lawsuits over confiscated property in Cuba, Miami Herald (June 28, 2018).

[3] Fn. 1; Guzzo, U.S. might allow lawsuits over U.S. properties nationalized in Cuba, Tampa Bay Times (Jan. 17, 2019); Cuba Foreign Minister Rodriguez, Cuba strongly rejects the threat of activation of Article III of the Helms Burton Act, Granma (Jan. 17, 2019).

[4] Senators Menendez and Rubio Call for Restoring U.S. Parole Program for Cuban Doctors, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2019).

[5] U.S. National Security Advisor Announces New U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 3, 2018).

Raúl Castro’s Celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution’s Triumph

On January 1, 2019, the 60st anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Raúl Castro delivered a lengthy address in Santiago de Cuba celebrating that anniversary as well as the 150th anniversary of the beginning of Cuba’s wars of independence from Spain. [1]

Castro said Cuba “will continue to prioritize defense training tasks, at all levels, in the interests of safeguarding independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty and peace, based on the strategic concept of the War of the Entire People, as is reflected in the recently approved Constitution of the Republic.”[2]

Also mentioned were the challenges facing the Cuan economy in 2019. It was necessary to “reduce all non-essential expenses and save more; increase and diversify exports; raise the efficiency of the investment process and enhance the participation of foreign investment, which, as stated in the guiding Party documents, is not a complement, but a fundamental element for development.”

In addition, the speech was peppered with the  following negative comments about the U.S. involvement in that history:

  • “Cuba’s victory against Spain “was usurped by the U.S. intervention and the military occupation of the country, which gave way to a long period of oppression and corrupt governments, subservient to its hegemonic designs.”
  • “The Revolutionaries attack on the Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953 also was an assault on ‘the crimes and abuses of a bloody tyranny, completely subordinated to the interests of the United States.”
  • “Already on January 8, 1959, upon his arrival in Havana, the Commander of the Revolution [Fidel] expressed: ‘The tyranny has been overthrown, the joy is immense and yet there is still much to be done. We do not fool ourselves into believing that from now on everything will be easy, perhaps from now on everything will be more difficult.'”
  • “On May 14, 1959, Cuba adopted the first Agrarian Reform Law “that upset the powerful economic interests of U.S. monopolies and the Creole bourgeoisie, which redoubled the conspiracies against the revolutionary process.”
  • “The nascent Revolution was subjected to all types of aggressions and threats, such as the actions of armed gangs financed by the U.S. government; assassination plans against Fidel and other leaders; the murder of young literacy teachers, many of them still adolescents; sabotage and terrorism throughout the country with the terrible toll of 3,478 dead and 2,099 disabled; the economic, commercial and financial blockade, and other political and diplomatic measures in order to isolate us; the campaigns of lies to defame the Revolution and its leaders; the mercenary invasion at Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs] in April 1961; the October [Missile] Crisis in 1962, when the military invasion of Cuba was being prepared in the United States; and an endless list of hostile acts against our homeland.”
  • “Over 60 years Cuba has has “seen twelve U.S. administrations that have not ceased in the effort to force a regime change in Cuba, one way or another, with varying degrees of aggressiveness.”
  • “Now once again, the U.S. government seems to be taking the course of confrontation with Cuba, and presenting our peaceful and solidary country as a threat to the region. It resorts to the sinister Monroe Doctrine to try to roll back history to the shameful era in which subjugated governments and military dictatorships joined it in isolating Cuba.”
  • “Increasingly, senior officials of the [U.S.] current administration, with the complicity of certain lackeys, disseminate new falsehoods and again try to blame Cuba for all the ills of the region, as if these were not the result of ruthless neoliberal policies that cause poverty, hunger, inequality, organized crime, drug trafficking, political corruption, abuse and deprivation of workers’ rights, displaced people, the eviction of campesinos, the repression of students, and precarious health, education and housing conditions for the vast majority.”
  • “They are the same who declare the intention to continue forcing the deterioration of bilateral relations, and promote new measures of economic, commercial and financial blockade to restrict the performance of the national economy, cause additional constraints on the consumption and welfare of the people, hinder even further foreign trade, and curb the flow of foreign investment. They say they are willing to challenge International Law, to contravene the rules of international trade and economic relations, and aggressively apply extraterritorial measures and laws against the sovereignty of other states.”
  • “The extreme right in Florida . . . has hijacked [U.S.] policy toward Cuba, to the pleasure of the most reactionary forces of the current U.S. government.”
  • “On July 26, [2018] here in Santiago, I explained that an adverse scenario had formed, and again the euphoria of our enemies had resurfaced, and the haste to materialize their dreams of destroying the example of Cuba. I also pointed out the conviction that the imperialist blockade of Venezuela, Nicaragua and our country was tightening. Events have confirmed that assessment.”
  • “After almost a decade of practicing unconventional warfare to prevent the continuity, or impede the return of progressive governments, Washington power circles sponsored coups – first a military coup to overthrow President Zelaya in Honduras, and later they resorted to parliamentary-judicial coups against Lugo in Paraguay, and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.”
  • The U.S. “promoted rigged and politically motivated judicial proceedings, as well as campaigns of manipulation and discredit against leftist leaders and organizations, making use of monopoly control over mass media.”
  • “The aggressive actions [of the U.S.] against [Venezuela] . . . must cease. As we warned some time ago, the repeated declaration of Venezuela as a threat to the national security of the United States, the open calls for a military coup against its constitutional government, the military training exercises undertaken in the vicinity of Venezuelan borders, as well as tensions and incidents in the area, can only lead to serious instability and unpredictable consequences.”
  • “It is equally dangerous and unacceptable that the United States government unilaterally sanctions and also proclaims the Republic of Nicaragua a threat to its national security. We reject the attempts of the discredited OAS, Organization of American States, to interfere in the affairs of this sister nation.”
  • “Faced with the [U.S. recent reassertion of the] Monroe Doctrine, the principles of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed in Havana by Heads of State and Government, which some allies of the United States now seek to disregard, must be applied and defended, for the good of all.”[3]
  • “As expressed by our Minister of Economy and Planning at the last session of the National Assembly, the cost to Cuba of [the U.S. blockade of Cuba is]calculated according to internationally approved methodology, [at] 4.321 billion dollars last year, equivalent to almost 12 million in damages every day, a fact that is overlooked by analysts who tend to question national economic performance.”

Nevertheless, Raúl reiterated Cuba’s “willingness to coexist in a civilized manner, despite the differences, in a relationship of peace, respect and mutual benefit with the United States. We have also clearly indicated that Cubans are prepared to resist a confrontational scenario, which we do not want, and we hope that the levelest heads in the U.S. government can avoid.”

American Journalist’s Assessment of Cuba’s Current Situation[4]

Jon Lee Anderson, an American journalist who has written extensively about Cuba, first stated what he saw as Cuba’s achievements over the last 60 years. It is “stable, having overcome such existential threats as the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and a half-century of diplomatic isolation and withering economic sanctions imposed by the United States.”

Cuba also has “weathered the collapse of the Soviet Union, its main Cold War benefactor, and a slew of traumatic internal ructions including the Mariel boatlift in 1980 and the Cuban raft exodus in 1994. Last but not least, Cuba has managed its first major political transitions, following the death in 2016 of its defining leader, Fidel Castro; the presidential retirement, last year, of his younger brother, Raúl Castro; and Raúl’s succession in office by Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, a 58-year-old Communist Party loyalist.”

Most importantly, he says, “the Cuban Communist system shows no sign of collapse.” But it is going through significant changes with greater opportunity to disagree with the government as evidenced by recent changes to regulations affecting the private sector and the arts.

Conclusion

Although I hope that there will be increasing opportunities for Cubans to express disagreement with their government’s policies, I am not as sanguine as Anderson about whether and when there will significant changes on such questions. Like any well-established and large system or organization, such changes are difficult and usually take longer than anticipated by some.

It also is interesting to compare this lengthy speech by Raúl with the shorter and less revealing recent statement by President Diaz-Canel that was mentioned in a prior post. Is this difference significant?

According to a U.S. journalist, the latest version of the proposed new Constitution, if as anticipated it is approved in the February referendum, provides that “the National Assembly must approve a new electoral law within six months after the new Constitution is enacted. Then, within another three months, the National Assembly must choose a new president, vice president and Council of State from among its deputies currently in office.” In addition, the new Constitution would create the new office of Prime Minister, requiring the president to share power. Therefore, it is possible that Diaz-Canel will be President for only a short time.[5]

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[1] Castro, After 60 years of struggle, sacrifices, efforts and victories, we see a free, independent country, the master of its own destiny (Jan. 2, 2019).

[2] The final draft of the proposed Constitution that will be submitted to a referendum in February 2019 is now available online.

[3] In February 2018, the Monroe Doctrine was favorably mentioned, in response to a question by an academic observer, by then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as discussed in an earlier post.

[4]  Anderson,  Cuba’s Next Transformation, N.Y. Times (Jan. 5, 2019).

[5] Gámez Torres, Cuba could have a new government soon if draft Constitution takes effect, Miami Herald (Jan. 5, 2019).

Announcements of Cuba’s “Pillars of Management“ and Strategy for 2019

Cuba President Miguel Diaz recently announced what he called “Pillars of Management” and the Government’s strategic objectives for 2019.[1]

Pillars of Management

In September 2018 Diaz-Canel stated the following four “pillars” for future management of the country:

  1. Respond to the mandate of the people and for the people by having responsible government officials account for their management to the people.
  2. Establish a connection, debate and permanent dialogue with the people, especially when there are more complications.
  3. Take into account that the solutions to these problems are very complex. Therefore, we always have to face each complexity with several alternative solutions.
  4. Use social communication as a working tool.

 Strategic Objectives for 2019

At the end of the year Diaz-Canel said that the Cuba Council of Ministers had adopted the following strategic objectives for 2019:

  • Disaggregate the 2019 Plan of the Economy in an orderly and agile manner, with the participation of the workers and their leaders.
  • Advance the process of computerization, not only with the fundamental leaders of the country in social networks, but with the updating of the websites of the agencies.
  • Continue to offer information to the media and start a television program to systematically address issues related to the government’s agenda.
  • Integrate universities in the search for solutions to the problems of the country and enhance the interaction between ministers and faculties.
  • Defend the ethics that should characterize the work of the leaders and the permanent contact with the people.
  • Maintain the atmosphere of order, harmony and cleanliness that must prevail in State institutions.
  • Comply with the regulations for the work of the non-state sector.
  • Support from all the institutions the broad legislative process that will be deployed after the approval of the new Constitution.
  • Strengthen the sources of tourism with the other sectors of the economy.
  • Encourage exports, including new sectors of the economy, while defending Cuba’s main economic and financial processes.
  • Prioritize, within the actions of the General Comptroller of the Republic and the National Auditing System, the follow-up of investments and exports, the substitution of imports and the productive linkages.
  • Establish as part of all audits, the use and destination of energy carriers, contracting, cost analysis, strengthening of accounting and the use of inventories.
  • Make the National Territorial Planning Scheme a working tool, which includes a score of policies aimed at the development of the country.
  • Develop a process for responding to the issues formulated by the people in the boards of directors of the Central State Administration Organisms and the Provincial Administration Councils.

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[1] Rivera, Government Management in Cuba: from pillars to strategy, Granma (Jan. 2, 2019).

 

Cuba’s Legislature Approves Revised Draft of New Constitution

On December 22, Cuba’s National Assembly unanimously approved a proposed new constitution for submission to a national referendum on February 24, 2019. It incorporates into an original one published in July hundreds of mainly small changes proposed by citizens during a three-month public consultation at community meetings nationwide. [1]

Summary of Latest Draft of Constitution

This draft maintains Cuba as a centrally planned economy ruled by a single Communist Party, but recognizes private property for the first time and paves the way for a separate referendum on legalizing gay marriage. It  also creates the role of prime minister alongside the current president, as well as provincial governors.

The new draft also recognizes worker-owned cooperatives for the first time as a legal form of production in every sector of the economy, while maintaining Cuba’s largely inefficient and stagnant state-run industries as the central means of production.

The draft contains the following 11 titles:

  • Title I: Political foundations
  • Title II: Economic fundamentals
  • Title III: Fundamentals of educational, scientific and cultural policy (Old Title V)
  • Title IV: Citizenship
  • Title V: Rights, Duties and Guarantees.
  • Title VI: Structure of the State.
  • Title VII: Territorial Organization of the Stat
  • Title VIII: Local Organs of Popular Power
  • Title IX: Electoral System
  • Title X: Defense and National Security
  • Title XI: Reform of the Constitution.

Cuba Official Reaction to New Draft.[2]

In closing this session of the National Assembly, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the island’s economic challenges — including a week 1.2 percent 2018 growth rate in 2018 and similar growth expected next year — required the acceptance of private business, joint public-private ventures and coops working together. He promised to fight widespread public-sector embezzlement and corruption that makes it virtually impossible to get anything done in Cuba without a series of small bribes.[3]

The modest changes to the draft constitution along with the recent changes to regulations governing private enterprise are seen by William LeoGrande, a U.S. expert on Cuba, as unprecedented responsiveness to organized public pressure. It “indicates both the government’s flexibility and also its recognition that the Cuba of 2018 is not one in which people will simply accept whatever the authorities dictate.” These changes also recognize the economic and financial difficulties facing the island.

Indeed, cash-strapped Cuba plans fresh austerity measures and will pressure the sluggish bureaucracy to tighten its belt and cut red tape to address weak growth, falling export earnings and rising debt.

Cuban Opposition to the Draft Constitution[4]

 According to Diario de Cuba, several Cuban organizations have launched a campaign to defeat this draft in the national referendum. Here are some of their principal objections:

  • The draft maintains the role of the Communist Party as the ” highest leading political force in society” and reaffirms state control of the economy.
  • While recognizing the role of the market and other forms of property, it affirms that Cuba “will never return” to capitalism because “only in socialism and in communism the human being reaches his full dignity.”
  • It does not allow for the existence of other political parties and independent media,
  • It denies the possibility of directly electing the president of the country,

The organizations supporting the “No” vote  are: Artists against Decree 349, Damas de Blanco Association, Asociación Pro Libertad de Prensa (APLP), Independent Trade Union Association of Cuba (ASIC), Citizens Committee for Racial Integration (CIR) ), Cuba Independiente y Democrática (CID), Cuba Piensa, Foro Antitotalitario Unido (FANTU), Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, Cuban Youth Dialogue Table (MDJC), Citizen Movement Reflection and Reconciliation, Cuban Reflection Movement, Maceista Movement for Dignity, Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), Observatory of Electoral Rights (ODE), Party for Democracy Pedro Luis Boitel, Project Di.Verso, OCDH Support Network and Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

 Amnesty International’s  Criticism of the Draft Constitution[5]

 Amnesty International had the following comments on the revised draft:

  1. At first glance, it appears to strengthen a host of human rights protections. But at a closer look, it quickly limits them to what is already found in national law. . . many of which are contrary to international law and standards.”
  2. On paper, it provides better protections to people accused of crime—like the right to a defence lawyer. In practice, all lawyers work for the state and rarely are prepared or able to mount an adequate defense without losing their job.”
  3. It maintains undue restrictions on freedom of expression. While article 59 ‘recognizes, respects and guarantees the freedom of thought, conscience and expression, Article 60 retains control over the organization and functioning of all media. This is inconsistent with international human rights law and standards, that require states not to have monopoly control over the media and,instead promote a plurality of sources and views.”
  4. It also stands to continue online censorship. On the one hand, the text proposes the “democratization of cyberspace. but on the other it condemns the use of the Internet for ‘subversion’ (Article 16.l). This could allow for criminal laws to be applied arbitrarily against independent journalists and bloggers, who already work in a legal limbo that exposes them to arbitrary detention, and whose work is already being blocked and filtered.”
  5. It continues to place undue restrictions on freedom of assembly, demonstration and association. Article 61 states that these rights, ‘For lawful and peaceful purposes,’ are recognized by the State whenever they are exercised with respect to public order and compliance with the mandatory provisions of the law.’ However, international law and standards are clear that the only legitimate reasons to restrict these rights is for  the protection of national security, public order, public health or morals, or the rights of others. In practice, protest by political opposition groups and human rights defenders are not tolerated by the authorities. For example, representatives of the Ladies in White, a group of female relatives of prisoners detained on politically motivated grounds, continue to be arbitrarily detained, usually for several hours each weekend, solely for exercising their right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly,”
  6. “It undermines artistic expression. Article 95.h protects artistic expression, but only when it conforms with ‘socialist values.’ Not only is this provision an undue restriction of freedom of expression, but in practice, anyone who dares to speak out against the government is quickly labeled ‘counter-revolutionary.’ One of the first laws signed by President Díaz Canal was Decree 349, a dystopian new law which stands to censor artists.”[6]
  7. “The reforms are unlikely to strengthen the independence of the judiciary or protect the right to fair trial. Article 48 protects the right to be tried before a ‘competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law.’ These are all key elements to ensuring the right to a fair trial. At the same time, Article 8 subordinates all organs of the state – presumably including the judiciary – to ‘socialist values’ which in practice may allow for undue interference by the presidency in judicial decisions. Serious and ongoing limitations on the independence of lawyers and the judiciary have been documented by Amnesty International and the UN for decades.”
  8. “If approved, it will pave the way for Cuba to become the first independent nation in the Caribbean to legalize same sex marriage. The revised Constitution defines marriage as between two people (Article 68) and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity (Article 40). While these provisions are a huge step forward in the path for equality and dignity for all, LGBTI activists say authorities still tightly control LGBTI activism outside of state-sanctioned spaces.”
  9. “It guarantees several economic, social and cultural rights. The proposed Constitution recognizes that human rights cannot be divided and depend on each other to make them happen in a progressive way and without discrimination (Article 39). The state recognizes its responsibility for the protection of older people (Article 73), and people living with disabilities (Article 74). It recognizes the right of people to “dignified housing” (Article 82), and the responsibility of the Cuban state to guarantee the rights to “public health” (Article 83), education (Articles 84), water (Article 87) and food (Article 88). Nevertheless, in a context where the judiciary is not independent, enforcing these rights through the courts will be unrealistic in practice.”
  10. “It commits Cuba to promoting the protection and conservation of the environment and to confronting climate change, which it recognizes as a ‘threat to the survival of the human species’ (Article 16). Cuba could strengthen this commitment further by joining fellow Caribbean countries in signing the Escazú Agreement, a major step forward for the right of people to access information and participate in policies, projects and decisions that affect the environment.”

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[1] Assoc. Press, Cuban Assembly Approves Draft of New Constitution, N.Y. Times (Dec. 22, 2018); Reuters, Cuban Lawmakers Approve New Constitution Which Heads to Referendum, N.Y. Times (Dec. 22, 2018); Intervention of Romero Acosta in the National Assembly, on the main changes of the Constitution from the Popular consultation, Granma (Dec. 22, 2018).See also prior posts about the new constitution in the ”Cuba’s New Constitution, 2018” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[2] Gamez Torres, After 60 years of revolution in Cuba, cracks in leadership emerge, Miami Herald (Dec. 27, 2018); Reuters, “Reality” Bites: Cuba Plans More Austerity as Finances Worsen, N.Y. Times (Dec. 28, 2018).

[3] See Cuba Relaxes Some New Rules Regarding Private Enterprise, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec.7, 2018).

[4]  Start a campaign for the ‘No’ to the new constitution, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 23, 2018); 20 reasons to vote NO on the constitutional referendum, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 26, 2018); The new Constitution will not reflect the society to which Cubans aspire, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 18, 2018).

[5]  Amnesty Int’l, 10 ways reforms to Cuba’s constitution would impact human rights (Nov. 21, 2018); Tillotson, Ten repercussions for the human rights of the reform of the Constitution of Cuba, El confidencial (Nov. 21, 2018).

[6] See Cuba Tightens Censorship of the Arts, dwkcommentaires.com (Dec. 26, 2018).

Cuba Tightens Censorship of the Arts 

Shortly after Cuban President Miguel Díaz Canel took office in April of this year, he signed Decree 349 that bans the exhibition and sale of artworks and music shows not authorized by the state. Performing artists will need a government license. State inspectors will verify that artwork, exhibits and concerts comply with regulations on national symbols such as the Cuban flag. The decree also targets vulgarity, obscenity or sexually explicit lyrics in pop songs, singling out reggaeton music. The “abusive use” of electronic media or audio equipment can result in fines and the confiscation of equipment and studios Inspectors will be empowered to cancel shows and revoke licenses.[1]

This Decree is supposed to take effect at the end of this month (December 2018), after artists  protests and the government’ saying it would soften some of the decree’s provisions. However, no changes have been made so far and none are expected in the last days of this year.

Moreover, the government already is taking actions against some artists.

For example, Cuban painter Italo Expósito was fined $120 and his artist’s license was revoked for opening his house to an independent art festival. As a result, he will be banned from selling paintings and sculptures from his house and hosting young, deaf artists at workshops.

Authorities also have banned performers who have addressed subjects like racial discrimination and detained artists who have staged protests against the Decree.

A Cuban writer who is exiled in Spain, Ernesto Hernández Busto, said authorities will censor art as they see fit no matter what form the new decree takes. “Censorship existed, it exists now and will continue to exist. The purpose of the decree is to regulate a new world: private businesses, art galleries, people working from their homes. The alarm went off because it is a sector that is not under state control.”

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[1] Pérez, ‘Absolute Control’:Cuba Steps Up Artistic Censorship, W.S.J. (Dec. 25, 2018),

Small Chance of Liberalized U.S. Rules for Agricultural Exports to Cuba  

The U.S.-China trade war initiated by the Trump Administration has had a significant negative impact on U.S. agricultural exports to that country. In response, some U.S. senators and representatives have been pressing for relaxation of U.S. restrictions on such exports to Cuba. These advocates include Senators Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND), Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) and Tine Smith (Dem., MN)  and Representatives Collin Peterson (Dem., MN) and Tom Emmer, (Rep., MN). [1]

In addition, a bipartisan group of over 60 agricultural associations, businesses and elected officials from 17 states have urged the two congressional agriculture committees to include in the pending farm bills a provision to remove restrictions on private financing of U.S. agricultural exports to the island. [2]

This week Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel in New York City for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly met separately with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Members of the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Ron Wyden (Dem., OR), Rep. Karen Bass (Dem., CA), Rep. Kathy Castor (Dem., FL), Rep. Robin Kelly (Dem., IL) Rep. Gregory Meeks (Dem., NY) and Rep. Roger Marshall (Rep., KA). Rep. Marshall told AG NET that the U.S. “can and should be Cuba’s number one supplier of commodities like sorghum, soy, wheat, and corn.”

But legislation to expand such exports by allowing credit sales to Cuba did not make it into the pending farm bills in both houses of the Congress, and most observers and participants think chances are nil of such a provision being added. And Senator Heitkamp’s provision in the Senate bill to allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use federal funds to develop the Cuban market could easily be cut from the bill in a conference committee.

The reason has more to do with politics than economics, according to Ted Piccone, a specialist in Latin American issues at the Brookings Institution. “It basically comes down to domestic politics in Florida,” Piccone said.

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[1] Spencer, Little appetite for effort to bolster ag trade with Cuba, StarTribune (Sept. 21, 2018).

[2] Engage Cuba, Agriculture Groups Support Farm Bill Cuba Provision that Would Save $690 Million (Sept. 5, 2018).