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

Latest U.S. Report on Cuban Human Rights

On March 13, the U.S. Department of State released its 43rd annual report on the human rights record  for 2018 of 191 other countries (the U.S. is not included). This report is submitted to the Congress, pursuant to Sections 116(d) and 502B(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Sections 2464, 2467 of that Act also require that U.S. foreign and trade policy take into account countries’ human rights and worker rights performance. [1]

The Report’s Preface

“The United States was founded on the premise that all persons “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Our Constitution secures these unalienable rights by proclaiming in the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The Fifth Amendment also sets out that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” These same concepts were adopted internationally in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly in Articles 3, 10, 12, 18, 19, and 20.”

“The founders of the United States and the delegates to the UN Commission on Human Rights recognized that these fundamental freedoms of religion or belief, expression, peaceful assembly and association belong to every human being. These freedoms are not granted by governments but are derived from the inherent dignity of the human person. Nor may they be unduly restricted by governments even to further some economic, social, or cultural purpose. They are unalienable.”

“Governments are charged with ensuring that the government itself does not wrongfully interfere with human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“Those sovereign states with which we have the closest, most long-standing, and productive collaboration are those where the government generally respects human rights, including the freedoms of religion or belief, expression, peaceful assembly, and association and do not engage in gross violations of human rights such as extrajudicial killing, torture, and extended arbitrary detention. Conversely, the states that threaten regional stability, are state sponsors of terrorism, or become inviting targets for terrorist recruitment almost invariably are states with governments that fail to respect the unalienable rights of those within their borders.”

“The policy of this Administration is to engage with other governments, regardless of their record, if doing so will further U.S. interests. At the same time, we recognize that U.S. interests in the enduring stability, prosperity, and security of a world filled with strong, sovereign states will only be served if governments respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. To that end, individuals seeking reforms to end the wrongful interference in the exercise of unalienable rights – whether those individuals are in or out of government – will find a sympathetic friend and strong supporter in the United States of America.”

Executive Summary of the Report on Cuba [2]

“Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Miguel Diaz-Canel, president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, with former president Raul Castro serving as the first secretary of the Communist Party (CP). Cuba has a one-party system in which the constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and the highest political entity of the state. On March 11, citizens voted to ratify a preselected list of 605 candidates to the National Assembly. A CP candidacy commission prescreened all candidates, and the government actively worked to block non-CP approved candidates from the ballot. On April 19, the National Assembly elected Diaz-Canel president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers. Neither the legislative nor the national elections were considered to be free or fair.”

“The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.”

“Human rights issues included reports of an unlawful and arbitrary killing by police; torture of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; holding of political prisoners; and arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy. The government engaged in censorship, site blocking, and libel is criminalized. There were limitations on academic and cultural freedom; restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly; denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; and restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement and on political participation. There was official corruption, trafficking in persons, outlawing of independent trade unions, and compulsory labor.”

“Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses and failed to investigate or prosecute those who committed the abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

Cuba’s Response [3]

Later the same day Cuba Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, ignored the above criticisms of Cuba and instead lambasted the U.S. in the following tweet:

  • “USA lacks moral authority in matter of [human rights]. It is a global repressor. Discriminates against minorities, makes the poor poorer, deprives millions of citizens to vote, violates the [human rights] of migrants and abundant cases of sexual abuse of minors in custody of the authorities.”

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[1] State Dep’t, 2018 Country Reports on the Human Rights Practices (Mar. 13, 2019); State Dep’t, [Secretary Pompeo]: Remarks on the Release of the 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Mar. 13, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018: CUBA (Mar. 13, 2019).

[3] Bruno Rodriguez: The United States lacks the moral to speak about human rights, Cubadebate (Mar. 13, 2019).

U.S. Modifies Its Cuba Restricted List

On March 11, the U.S.  State Department modified its Cuba Restricted List of Cuban entities and subentries with which Americans are forbidden to have financial transactions. This modification added to this List five sub-entities owned by the Cuban military. [1]

This List, which was first promulgated in November 2017 and then previously modified in October 2018, identifies entities and subentries the U.S. has concluded “disproportionately benefit the Cuban military intelligence, and security services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people to private enterprise.” [2]

The Department’s announcement added, “the Cuban government further consolidated the regime’s one-party dictatorship through a flawed, undemocratic constitutional referendum on February 24. We also denounce Cuba’s role in propping the failed regime of former Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro. Cuban military and security forces have abetted Maduro ins quest to remain in power, contributing to the Venezuelan crisis, human rights abuses against Venezuelans, and to the untold suffering of the Venezuelan people.”

Nearly simultaneously, the U.S. State Department authorized U.S. litigation against entities on this List that trafficked in property owned by U.S. nationals that was expropriated by Cuba in 1959-60. {3}

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, State Department Updates the Cuba Restricted List (Mar. 11, 2019); U.S. State Dep’t, Cuba Restricted List 

[2] New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 8, 2017); More Cuban Businesses Forbidden to U.S. Visitors, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 16, 2018). 

[3] U.S. Authorizes U.S. Litigation Against Entities on Cuba Restricted List, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 5, 2019); U.S. State Dep’t, Senior State Department Official On Title III of the LIBERTAD Act (Mar. 4, 2019)

Venezuelan Power Outage Causes New Crisis

On March 7 Venezuela had a major electrical power outage that continues to this day. On March 11 this outage resulted in harsh words and actions by the United States, Cuba and Venezuela. When and how it will end, the public does not know.

Secretary Pompeo’s Morning Comments [1]

On the morning of March 11, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press conference at the State Department said Cuba and Russia “have played [a central role] and continue to play in undermining the democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people and their welfare.” He followed with these comments about Cuba:

  • “No nation has done more to sustain the death and daily misery of ordinary Venezuelans, including [its] . . .  military and their families, than the communists in Havana. Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela. The Cuban government of Miguel Diaz-Canel provides political cover for Maduro and his henchmen so that they may stay in power. It is Cuba that has offered Maduro its unwavering solidarity. It’s Cuba that calls Venezuela’s true government, led by Interim President Juan Guaido, which 54 of the world’s democratic nations recognize as a legitimate government—Cubans call this a puppet government of the United States.”
  • “Yet it’s Cuba that’s trained Venezuelans’ secret police and torture tactics, domestic spying techniques, and mechanisms of repression the Cuban authorities have wielded against their own people for decades. Members of the Cuban military and intelligence services are deeply entrenched in the Venezuelan state. Cuban security forces have displaced Venezuelan security forces in a clear violation of Venezuelan sovereignty. I even hear that Maduro has no Venezuelans around him. Many of his personal security and closest advisors are acting not at the direction of the Venezuelan people, and frankly, perhaps not even at the direction of Maduro, but rather at the direction of the Cuban regime. They provide physical protection and other critical material and political support to Maduro and to those around him. So when there’s no electricity, thank the marvels of modern Cuban-led engineering. When there’s no water, thank the excellent hydrologists from Cuba. When there’s no food, thank the Cuban communist overlords.”
  • “Why is Cuba asserting so much influence in Venezuela? What’s in it for them? Follow the ideology, follow the corrupt elites, and perhaps most importantly, follow the money. Cuba’s communist revolutionaries share a natural affinity with Maduro’s socialists. They both disdain private property rights, the rule of law, and free and fair elections. The very same economic theories that have decimated the Cuban economy since 1959 have now turned Venezuela’s economy, one of the richest in Latin America, into a case of decline that economists study with amazement and horror. Both of these countries routinely violate the basic human rights of their peoples.”
  • “The two nations also share a feature: a deeply corrupt ruling class. Maduro learned from the Castros that the best way to stay in power is to buy enough generals to protect you and make sure that the only way to be rich, or even to avoid poverty, is to feed off the regime and stay in its good graces.”
  • “Lastly, there’s an economic relationship between Cuba and Venezuela as well. The Maduro regime sends up to 50,000 barrels of oil to Cuba per day, and Cuba needs this cheap Venezuelan energy to prop up its tottering socialist economy, while Maduro needs Cuban expertise in repression to keep his grip on power. That’s a match made in hell.”

Cuba’s Response Regarding Venezuela [2]

“The Revolutionary Government strongly condemns the sabotage perpetrated against the power supply system in Venezuela, which is a terrorist action intended to harm the defenseless population of an entire nation and turn it into a hostage of the non-conventional war launched by the government of the United States against the legitimate government headed by comrade Nicolás Maduro Moros and the civic and military union of the Bolivarian and Chavista people.”

“This adds to the ruthless economic and financial warfare imposed on Venezuela with the clear intention to subjugate, through shortages and deprivations, the political and sovereign will of a people that has not been brought to its knees.”

“This is an escalation of a non-conventional war led by the US government against that sister nation, which is taking place after the failed provocation  orchestrated on February 23 with the intention of carrying by force an alleged humanitarian aid into Venezuela, thus challenging the legitimate authorities of that country and violating International Law and the principles and norms of the United Nations Charter, with the purpose of causing widespread death and violence as a pretext for a “humanitarian intervention.”

“The experience of Cuba’s own history and the history of other countries in the region show that these actions are a prelude of violent acts of a larger scope, as was the case of the armed invasion through Bay of Pigs in 1961.  The international community has accumulated sufficient evidence to be on the alert.”

“The usurper and self-proclaimed ‘president’ made in the US has publicly said that, when the time comes, he would invoke Article 187 of the Constitution to authorize the use of foreign military missions in the country; and has repeated exactly the same phrase used by his American mentors: ‘All options are on the table.’”

“He just needs to receive an order from Washington, since it is known that, during his tour around South America, he already asked certain governments to support a military intervention in his country.”

“The offensive launched against Venezuela has been accompanied by a ferocious campaign of McCarthyist propaganda and lies coordinated by the National Security Advisor of that country, John Bolton, as a pretext to apply by force the Monroe Doctrine, for which he has counted on the active participation of the anti-Cuban Senator Marco Rubio, who has frantically resorted to social networks, thus evidencing his interest and personal and conspiratorial involvement in the maneuvers perpetrated against Venezuela.”

One of the most relentless and shameless statements made has been the slanderous assertion that Cuba has ‘between 20 and 25 thousand troops in Venezuela’ which ‘exercise control’ on that sister and sovereign nation and  ‘keep’ the members of the glorious and combative National Bolivarian Armed Forces ‘under threat.’  Cuba categorically rejects that lie and equally strongly refutes any insinuation that there is some level of political subordination by Venezuela to Cuba or by Cuba to Venezuela.”

“It is absolutely not true that Cuba is taking part in operations carried out by the National Bolivarian Armed Forces or the security services.  This is a slanderous rumor deliberately disseminated by the government of the United States.  When Bolton as well as other politicians and officials of the US government rely on such rumors, they are deliberately lying to pursue aggressive political purposes.  They have sufficient data and information and know the truth.”

“Cuba does not interfere in the internal affairs of Venezuela, just as Venezuela does not interfere in Cuba’s internal affairs.”

“Unlike the United States, which has about 80 military bases in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the one that is usurping the Cuban territory in Guantánamo; and around 800 in the entire planet, with more than 250 000 quartered troops, Cuba does not have any base in any country; or specialists in torture and police repression; or secret prisons; or naval or air forces prowling around the coasts or the immediate air space of sovereign States; or satellites watching every single detail.”

“The Revolutionary Government warns and denounces that the tendency of the government of the United States to lie without any limit or restraint whatsoever has already had dangerous consequences in the past that could replicate in the present.”

Maduro’s Comments [3]

Early on Tuesday, the Venezuelan foreign ministry said that talks on keeping some U.S. representation collapsed due to hostility from Washington and that the presence of U.S. diplomats entails risks for peace and stability.

Later in a televised statement to the country, Maduro said the electrical problems would be resolved by the end of the week. He also said, “his opponents in Venezuela and the United States Government [are] responsible for these blackouts, which became frequent in the country under his Administration and despite the fact that almost all the stations of the National Electric System (SEN) are under the protection of the public force under his orders. [Our opponents] are going to insist on their attacks so I ask for maximum awareness and understanding if new attacks affect the service of their people, in their community, in their state, maximum understanding.” Maduro also said President Donald Trump was the “main [one] responsible for the cyber attack” to [Venezuela’s electrical power system].”

Pompeo’s Late Night Comments [4]

At 9:50 pm (EDT) Secretary Pompeo issued the following tweet: “The U.S. will withdraw all remaining personnel from [the U.S. Embassy in Caracas] this week. This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in [Venezuela] as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy.” (Emphasis added.) This was reiterated in the following statement by the State Department: “this decision reflects the deteriorating situation in Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy.”

Conclusion

Pompeo’s comment that the “presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy” could be read as a hint that the U.S. was planning some kind of military intervention. A former U.S. diplomat who has worked in Caracas, Brett Bruen, said this announcement “appeared hasty and lacked the details . . . to make sense of what American actions and policy are” and “played into Mr. Maduro’s warnings that the United States was the actual power behind an attempted coup.”

It is well documented that Venezuela has been experiencing a devastating economic crisis with outrageously high inflation, lack of food and medical supplies and the exodus of millions of its citizens to neighboring countries.

At the same time it is difficult to trust the conflicting statements by the governments of the U.S., Cuba and Venezuela. I pray that there will be no U.S. military intervention.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Remarks to the Press (Mar. 11, 2019);Sanger, Kurmanaev & Herrera, Pompeo Accuses Cuba and Russia of Propping Up Venezuelan Ruler, N.Y. Times (Mar. 11, 2019).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Statement by the Revolutionary Government of Cuba: Cuba Condemns the Terrorist Sabotage Against the Power Supply System in Venezuela (Mar. 11, 2019).

[3] Assoc. Press, Venezuela says breakdown in talks led to US pullout, Wash. Post (Mar. 12, 2019); 

In the middle of the massive blackout, Maduro called the collectives to “active resistance,” El Comercio (Mar.12, 2019). 

[4] Wong & Victor, In Setback in Venezuela, U.S. Is Withdrawing Diplomats From Its Embassy, N.Y. Times (Mar. 12, 2019); U.S. State Dep’t, On the Withdrawal of U.S. Diplomatic Personnel from Venezuela (Mar. 11, 2019).

Cuba’s Success and Problems with an Aging, Declining Population

One of the successes of the Cuban Revolution has been better health care for average Cubans and thus their increasing life spans. Simultaneously, however, the number of younger Cubans has been declining. The result, Cuba has a declining, aging population that is now the oldest in Latin America,

The average life expectancy for a Cuban man is 76.8 years and 81.3 years for a woman, according to 2018 data from the World Health Organization. To address the challenges of this changing demography, the Cuban government has made the following changes:

  • Several years ago, the Cuban government began to progressively raise its retirement age from 60 to 65 for men and from 55 to 60 for women. It also allowed people to collect their pensions and still work.
  • In December 2018, the government raised the minimum pension from 200 Cuban pesos to 249 Cuban pesos, which amounts to less than $10. Many pensioners complain they are barely getting by.
  • Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health provides funding for Círculos de Abuelos (Grandparents Circles), which provide adult daycare for the elderly with meals, games, conversation and socialization.

On the other hand, Cuba’s low fertility rate and birth rate are seen as markers of low confidence in Cuba’s future. The same is shown by high out-migration of younger Cubans looking for a better life and future prospects in other countries. Nor is Cuba attracting in-migration of younger people from other countries for the same reason.

In short, for this aging U.S. gringo, Cuba needs to adopt policies that give younger Cubans solid reasons to believe that their future on the island will be better. And that is not more of the same.

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Whitefield, ‘Circulos de Abuelos’ serve Cuba’s rapidly aging population—the oldest in the Americas, Miami Herald (Mar. 7, 2019); Cuban Realities Adversely Affecting Normalization with the U.S., dwkcommenaries.com (Nov. 12, 2015).

U.S. Authorizes U.S. Litigation Against Entities on Cuba Restricted List

On January 16, 2019, 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. The stated reasons for this 45-day extension, instead of the long-standing practice of granting six-month extensions was to “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.”  [1]

Secretary Pompeo’s New Statement [2]

On March 3, Secretary Pompeo issued another statement on this subject with two parts.

The first part granted “an additional suspension for 30 days through April 17, 2019, of the right to bring an action under Title III [of this federal statute as] necessary to the national interests of the United States and will expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba.” with the below exception. Beginning March 19, suspension shall not apply to:

The second part of this statement, however, contained an exception to this further suspension. Beginning March 19, this suspension will 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.” This exception protects, for now any foreign firm from such U.S. litigation.

The Cuba Restricted List [3]

This statement explained that the “Cuba Restricted List identifies entities and sub-entities under the control of Cuban military, intelligence, or security services. These security services are directly responsible for the repression of the Cuban people. We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting the Cuban dictatorship.”

The first such Restricted List was promulgated by the State Department in November 2017,, with a list of 180 entities and subentities that the Department had determined were owned or controlled by “the large military-run corporations that dominate the Cuban economy. These include GAESA and CIMEX, the holding companies that control most retail business on the island; Gaviota, the largest tourism company; and Habaguanex, the firm that runs Old Havana.

This list was amplified on November 14,  2018, with the addition of 26 subentities. According to the State Department, “direct financial transactions [by U.S. nationals] with these entities are generally prohibited because they would disproportionately benefit those entities or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.”

Cuba’s Reaction  [4]

Also on March 4 the Cuba’s foreign Ministry issued the following lengthy rejection of this U.S. move:

  • “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejects in the strongest terms the new escalation in the US aggressive behavior against Cuba.”
  • “Since its entry into force in 1996, the Helms-Burton Act has sought to universalize the economic blockade through brutal and illegal pressures exerted by the United States against third countries, their governments and companies.  It is intended to suffocate the Cuban economy and generate or increase shortages among the population with the purpose of imposing in Cuba a government that serves the interests of the US.”
  • “Given the illegitimate character of the goals they pursue, which are contrary to International Law, the Helms-Burton Act and the blockade arouse universal rejection, which has been reiterated for almost three decades at the most important regional and international fora.  The most recent example of that was the United Nations General Assembly meeting held on November 1, [2018] when said policy was rejected through 10 consecutive votes, thus leaving the US in complete isolation.”
  • “Title II of the Helms-Burton Act states that the overthrowing of the revolutionary government, the subsequent tutelage by a US intervenor and the ultimate establishment of a counterrevolutionary government subordinated to Washington would unequivocally pursue the return or compensation to former owners for all the properties they or their descendants might claim, regardless of whether or not they were US citizens at the moment when nationalizations took place or the fact that they abandoned them. During all that period, the economic blockade would continue to be fully implemented.”
  • “Consequently, Cubans would be forced to return, reimburse or pay to US claimants for the house where they live, the area on which their communities are built, the arable land  where they farm  their products, the school where their children are educated, the hospital or polyclinic where  they receive medical assistance, the place where their workplace is located or where they have a private business, and also for subsidized services such as electricity, water, and communications enjoyed by the population.”
  • “This is an aspiration that can only be conceived by the minds of those who identify Cuba s a colonial possession.  According to the Helms-Burton Act, the economic blockade would be lifted only when that ambition is fulfilled.”
  • “This law relies on two fundamental lies: the notion that nationalizations carried out soon after the triumph of the Revolutionary were illegitimate or inappropriate and that Cuba is a threat to the US national security.”
  • “Cuban nationalizations were carried out in accordance with the law, strictly abiding by the Constitution and in conformity with International Law. All nationalizations included processes of fair and appropriate compensation, something that the US government refused to consider.  Cuba reached and honored global compensation agreements with other nations which are today investing in Cuba, such as Spain, Switzerland, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and France.”
  • The real threat against regional peace and security are the irresponsible declarations and actions of the US government as well as the destabilizing plans against Latin America and the Caribbean aimed at pursuing the stated purpose of imposing the Monroe Doctrine.”
  • [Cuba’s] Reaffirmation of   Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty Act of December 24, 1996, states that the Helms-Burton Act is illegal, inapplicable and has no legal value or effect whatsoever. It considers null and void any claim under that law by any natural or juridical person.”
  • “According to that [Cuban] law, claims for compensation for nationalized properties could be part of a process of negotiation on the based on equality, mutual respect between the governments of Cuba and the United States, and be “reviewed together with the indemnifications the Cuban State and people are entitled to as a result of the damages caused by the blockade and   aggressions of every sort, of which the US government is responsible”. It also makes it clear that those who resort to procedures or mechanisms under the Helms-Burton Act to the detriment of others shall be excluded from possible future negotiations.”
  • “The Cuban Government reiterates to all economic partners and foreign companies operating in Cuba that full guarantees will be granted to foreign investments and joint projects. Article 28 of the Cuban Constitution, which was ratified by an overwhelming majority on February 24, 2019, also recognizes those guarantees, which are also included in [Cuban] Law No. 118 on Foreign Investments of March 29, 2014.”
  • “Today’s [U.S.] decision imposes additional obstacles to our economic development and progress goals, but the United States will keep on failing to achieve its main purpose of submitting by force the sovereign will of Cubans and our determination to build socialism. The majority feelings of the peoples of Cuba and the United States in favor of improving relations and establishing a civilized and respectful coexistence shall prevail.”

Other Reactions

John Bolton, U.S. National Security Advisor commented the same day in the following tweet: “Cuba’s role in usurping democracy and fomenting repression in Venezuela is clear. That’s why the U.S. will continue to tighten financial restrictions on Cuba’s military and intel services. The region’s democracies should condemn the Cuba regime.”

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) had a similar tweet: “Today expect the United States to take the first in a series of steps to hold the regime in #Cuba accountable for its 60 years of crimes & illegality which includes its support for the murderous #MaduroCrimeFamily. Justice is coming. And more to come.”

Rubio also joined with U.S. Senator Rick Scott (Rep., FL) and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Rep., FL) in issuing the following lengthier statement supporting this Trump Administration move. [5]

Senator Rubio made the initial comments of the Press Release,“‘President Trump is sending a strong message that the United States will not sit idly by while the Cuban regime continues to support the Maduro crime family at the expense of the Venezuelan people,’ Rubio said. ‘For 60 years, the Cuban regime has forced millions into exile, destabilized neighboring countries, given safe harbor to fugitives from justice and to international terrorists, and made millions trafficking in stolen property. By beginning the process of implementing Title III of the Helms-Burton Libertad Act, the United States is holding the Cuban regime accountable for its crimes, including its support for the murderous Maduro crime family. Justice is coming — and it is just getting started.’”

Senator Scott added, “The Administration’s plan to fully and immediately implement Title III and IV of the Libertad Act signals to the international community that the United States is serious about its commitment to freedom and democracy in Cuba. Allowing American citizens to sue for stolen property in Cuba and denying foreign nationals involved in trafficking stolen property entry into the United States is a huge step toward cutting off the money supply to the Castro Regime. It is clear that where we see instability, chaos and violence in Latin America, we also see the fingerprints of the Castro regime and their money – and this action by the administration is an important step in stabilizing the entire region. President Trump’s strong action on the Libertad Act will further hold the Cuban regime accountable. I urge him to continue with the planned implementation this month so we can help begin a new day of freedom and democracy for Cuba and its people.”

Representative Diaz-Balart stated, “Today, the Trump Administration took another important step toward righting some of the wrongs perpetrated by a dictatorship that brutally oppresses its people and opposes U.S. interests at every opportunity. Shamefully, for nearly twenty-two years since the LIBERTAD Act’s enactment, unscrupulous businesses have ignored this important provision in U.S. law and have chosen to partner with tyrants. This is just the first action of many regarding the Administration’s actions on Title III. Justice for the victims of the Castro regime’s confiscations is long overdue. Years of consecutive extensions may have lulled some into a false sense of impunity. Yet now companies which willingly entangle themselves in partnerships with the anti-American, illegitimate, and oppressive regime in Cuba are on notice that they will be held responsible for their part in callously benefiting from the extensive losses suffered by victims of the regime. I will continue to work with the Administration, Senator Rubio, and my congressional colleagues to ensure the United States continues to pressure the Castro regime and move forward with the full implementation of Title III.”

 Conclusion

This U.S. announcement may have only symbolic significance.

First, according to the Associated Press, “virtually none of the businesses [on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List has] . . . any links to the U.S. legal or financial systems, meaning the ability to sue [in the U.S.] is unlikely to have any effect on the Cuban economy or foreign businesses that work with the socialist government.” In lawyer’s language, any lawsuit in a U.S. court against an entity on the Cuba Restricted List should be subject to a very strong objection for lack of personal jurisdiction over the Cuban entity, meaning any such case very likely would be dismissed at the commencement of the case. [6]

Second, another potential defense to a U.S. lawsuit might be sovereign immunity.

Third, it would be insane for any U.S. claimant to sue any of the Cuban entities in a Cuban court, which would throw out any such case and perhaps impose some penalty on the claimant for bringing such a case.

Fourth, if any of the Cuban entities are present in other countries of the world, a lawsuit there by a U.S. claimant presumably would not be subject to a lack of personal jurisdiction defense, but other defenses might be available plus other countries’ possible hostility to the overall purposes of the Helms-Burton Act and U.S. policies towards Cuba.

Finally Cuba correctly observes that it recognizes that it has an international legal obligation to compensate foreign owners of expropriated property and that it has settled many (all?) such claims by non-U.S. persons. Moreover, under the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement in 2015-16 the two counties had discussions about the U.S. claims although the details have not been publicly released. A major impediment to such a negotiated settlement is Cuba’s lack of financial resources for such payments. Therefore, this blogger has suggested in another post that the only realistic result is for the two countries to reach an overall settlement, including Cuba’s claims against the U..S., which would have the net effect of the U.S. government’s paying the U.S. claims for expropriated property,   =================================

[1] Update on Trump Administration’s Threat To Allow U.S. Litigation Over Cuba’s Expropriated Property, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 30, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Secretary Enacts 30-Day Suspension of Title III (LIBERTAD Act) With an Exception (Mar. 3, 2019); Reuters, Foreign Partners Excluded From U.S. Lawsuits Against Cuban Firms: Official, N.Y. times (Mar. 4, 2019). 

[3] New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 8, 2017);More Cuban Businesses Forbidden to U.S. Visitors, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 16, 2018).

[4] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Declaration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Cuba Strongly Rejects New Aggressive Escalation by the United States (Mar. 4, 2019).

[5] Press Release: Rubio, Scott, & Diaz-Balart Commend Trump Administration’s Decision to Hold the Communist Cuban Regime Accountable for Crimes (Mar. 4, 2019).

[6] Assoc. Press, Trump Symbolically Tightens Embargo on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 4, 2019). See The Personal Jurisdiction Requirement for Civil Lawsuits in U.S. Courts, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 8, 2011).

My Call Stories

Here are my call stories in response to Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen’s  sermon,“What Is Your Call Story?,” which was the subject of a prior post.  

The sermon drew from the Bible’s account of Isaiah receiving a direct call from God and Zacchae’us having one from Jesus. I never had such a direct call and doubt that I ever will. Instead, as will be discussed, I have responded to various requests by friends and colleagues to do something that upon reflection were calls to service. Such requests often can lead to personal reflection and conversations with pastors and friends to discern whether there has been a call and what your response should be.

The title of the sermon suggests that each of us only has one call story. Yet I have had multiple calls to service and believe that is or should be a common experience. After all the sermon mentions the pastor’s father, Rev. Dr. Henry William Andersen, who had a strong calling to Presbyterian ministry, but upon his retirement from that ministry was perplexed for a while before he discovered a calling to retire and be a friend and counselor to other retired people.

In other words, vocation “implies a dedication to a certain kind of work or service over a period of time. A one-time effort probably does not count. On the other hand, . . . vocation does not necessarily require a lifetime commitment to doing a certain thing. Indeed, an individual’s circumstances change over time and what was a vocation for one period of life may not be appropriate for other period. Thus, an individual may have several vocations over time, some of which might be simultaneous.” [1]

Before I joined Westminster in 1981 I had no religious calls to service.

My Calls to Service

Church Leadership [2]

Shortly after I joined the church, I was asked to be an elder of the church. At the time I was surprised that the church wanted someone to serve in that capacity with such limited experience in the church, but I said “Yes” and now regard that as a call to service. This led to service on various church committees—Spiritual Growth, Evangelism and Global Partnerships, the last of which I chaired for ten years. In the process I learned a lot about these different programs and helped shape their missions.

This call was expanded by an invitation I accepted to join the Board of Trustees of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, an ecumenical Protestant institution, which I served, 1988-1998.

The Sanctuary Movement Lawsuit [3]

While serving as a church leader, I struggled with how I could integrate my new religious faith with an active legal practice as a corporate litigator.

The answer to that struggle emerged in 1985, when the senior partner at my law firm asked me to provide legal advice to a firm client and his church, the American Lutheran  Church (ALC), which was headquartered in Minneapolis and since merged into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The problem was to help ALC decide what it should do in response to the U.S. Government’s disclosure in a criminal case in Arizona that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS and now the (Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE)) had sent undercover agents into worship services and Bible study meetings in ALC and Presbyterian churches in Arizona that were involved in the Sanctuary Movement.

The result was the ALC joined my denomination—Presbyterian Church U.S.A.—in suing the U.S. Government in federal court in Arizona over what we called “spies in the churches.” In preparation for that case, I had a trip to Phoenix to meet religious leaders involved in the Movement, including Rev. John Fife of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, who in 1986 was convicted of harboring and transporting illegal aliens and served five years probation before being elected Moderator (the national leader) of my denomination. 

The courtroom work in this case was handed by two excellent lawyers—Peter Baird and Janet Napolitano of the Phoenix firm of Lewis and Roca (n/k/a Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie)—and after a Ninth Circuit reversal of a judgment for the Government, the court in Arizona granted a declaratory judgment that the U.S. Constitution’s “freedom of religion” Claus of the First Amendment protected churches from unreasonable investigations. (Napolitano, of course, later became U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, the state’s Attorney General and Governor and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and now is the President of the University of California.)

Thus, I came to understand that my senior partner’s asking me to provide legal services to the ALC was a call to religious service.

Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer [4]

Moreover, at the start of the Sanctuary Movement case, I knew very little about the Sanctuary Movement or refugee and asylum law or what had been going on in Central America. This led to my leaning about this area of the law through a refugee and asylum training program from Minnesota Advocates for Human rights (n/k/a Advocates for Human Rights) and then volunteering to be a pro bono (no fee) attorney for an asylum applicant from El Salvador. Simultaneously I engaged in research about the Sanctuary Movement and about what had been happening in that country. I then tried the case with an experienced immigration attorney in the Immigration Court in Minneapolis. As was typical at the time, we lost the case, but immediately filed an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Washington, D.C., which enabled our client to remain in the U.S. with a work permit.

My Pilgrimage to El Salvador [5]

In 1988 I volunteered to handle another Salvadoran asylum case, which was more complicated. As a result, I decided to go to that country in April 1989 with a group from the Washington, D.C. Synod of the ALC through the auspices of the Center for Global Education of Augsburg University of Minneapolis. My purpose was to conduct investigations for this new case and learn more about the country and those objectives were accomplished.

The day we arrived, the Salvadoran Attorney General was assassinated with a car bomb. This produced an intensely tense and dangerous time in the country with her security forces with their automatic rifles stationed throughout the capitol.

Unexpectedly this trip turned out to be the most intense religious experience of my life and a major call to faith and service.

I started to learn more about Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated while saying mass on March 24, 1980, because of his outspoken criticism of his government’s human rights violations. My group visited the beautiful, modern chapel on the grounds of a cancer hospital where he was killed. Across the street was his small apartment. No fancy archbishop’s palace for him. Another stop was at the capitol city’s Cathedral, which was still unfinished due to Romero’s refusal to spend money on the building while so many Salvadorans were being killed and persecuted. His tomb then in one of the transepts was very plain and covered with photographs of people and their written prayers. There were scraps of linoleum on the floor and plain wooden benches for worshippers. On the outdoor steps to the Cathedral women from COMADRES (Committee of Mothers of the Disappeared and Assassinated) with bullhorns were screaming protests against the latest round of repression by the government. Tears filled my eyes as the words of the Holy Communion or Eucharist echoed in my mind: “My body broken for you.” As a result, Romero became a self-appointed saint for this Protestant believer and I was overjoyed in October 2018 when the Roman Catholic Church canonized Romero as Saint Romero. [6]

Of the many other searing events of my week in El Salvador, another stands out. At the small Lutheran Church of El Salvador, we met an attorney, Salvador Ibarra, who was the one-person human rights office of the church. He spoke of his joy in his work even though such service put his own life at risk and thereby was calling me to continued work as a pro bono asylum lawyer.

Additional Pro Bono Asylum Work [7]

I accepted that call upon my return to the security and comforts of my office in a large law firm in downtown Minneapolis. I helped my second Salvadoran client to obtain asylum.

Thereafter until my retirement from the law firm in 2001, I was such an attorney for other Salvadorans, a young man from Afghanistan, two Somali men, a Burmese man, a young woman from Colombia and a Colombian family, all of whom obtained asylum and at least some of whom are now U.S. citizens.

Teaching International Human Rights Law [8]

In the Fall of 2001, after retiring from the practice of law, I audited the international human rights law course at the University of Minnesota Law School, which was taught by friends, Professors David Weissbrodt and Barbara Frey and by Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, who became another friend. Thereafter David extended a surprise invitation to me to help them teach the course in the future. I accepted that invitation or call, and from 2002 through 2010 I was an Adjunct Professor at the UM where I taught the chapters on refugee and asylum law and U.S. federal court litigation over foreign human rights violations. Along the way I also learned a lot more about other aspects of this large area of law. I am grateful for this call.

Blogging About Law, Politics, Religion and History [9]

One of the reasons I had another retirement (this from teaching) was to research and write about law, politics, religion and history and stumbled onto blogging as a way to do just that. As a result, in April 2011 I started this blog.

My writing about religion has concentrated on the life and witness of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. I have been enriched by reading the Biblical texts and sermons and then thinking and writing about them. I have come to see this as my way of doing evangelism by demonstrating how an intelligent person can have a religious, spiritual life, something I did not believe possible during my 24 years of religious and spiritual nothingness before I joined Westminster in 1981.

Another major subject of my blog is promoting U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, which grew out of my work on Westminster’s partnership with a Presbyterian-Reformed congregation in the City of Matanzas, Cuba, making three mission trips to the island and welcoming Cuban visitors to my church and city.

Thus, I have come to see blogging as another call that I have accepted.

Conclusion

I concur with Rev. Hart-Andersen when he said in his sermon, “ Christian vocation is less about a particular job and more about how we approach that job, less with what career we choose and more about the underlying purpose we sense in our lives and how that purpose manifests itself in whatever we do. . . . Being called to follow Jesus is a way of life, a pilgrimage on which we embark together.”

Or as noted Presbyterian pastor and author, Frederick Buechner said, a calling is “work I need most to do and what the world needs most to have done. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” [10]

I am eternally grateful to have received, and accepted, these calls to service. My life has been enriched!

==========================

[1] My General Thoughts on Vocation, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 6, 2014). 

[2] Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, dwkcommentaries.com (April 6, 2011); My Vocations, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 23, 2014), 

[3] The Sanctuary Movement Case, dwkcommentaries.com (May 22, 2011) 

[4] Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer, dwkcommentareis.com (May 24, 2011).

[5] My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989, dwkcommentariess.com  (May 25, 2011); Inspiration of a Christian Lawyer by the Martyred Jesuit Priests of El Salvador, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 14, 2014); posts listed in the “Archbishop Oscar Romero “ section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—-Topical: RELIGION.

[6] The Canonization of Oscar Romero, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 15, 2018). 

[7] See n. 4.

[8] Auditing the International Human Rights Law Course, dwkcommentaries.com (June 30, 2011); Teaching the International Human Rights Law Course, dwkcommentareis.com (July 1, 2011). 

[9] The Joy of Blogging, dwkcommentaries.com; List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: RELIGION

[10] My General Thoughts on Vocation, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 6, 2014).