Criticism of President Biden’s “New Cuba Policy”

On May 16, 2022, the White House held a press briefing on what it called “Our New Cuba Policy.” After examining the details of that briefing, we will evaluate that so called “New Policy” and conclude that it is inadequate by failing to call for elimination of (a) the U.S. embargo of Cuba and (b) the U.S. designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

U.S. “New Cuba Policy”[1]

The “new” policy was said to be designed “to increase support for the Cuban people and safeguard our national security interests” and resulted from the U.S. study over the last year that “continues to center on human rights and empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future, and we continue to call on the Cuban government to release all political prisoners.” This review was directed by President Biden to take actions in response to “the large-scale [Cuban] protests that took place last July” and “to take actions in two primary areas:”

  • “The first is to promote accountability for human rights abuses, for which we have announced several rounds of sanctions targeting those individuals and entities with direct ties to human rights abuses.”
  • “Second, . . . to explore meaningful ways to support the Cuban people.”

Therefore, the “new” policy has “prioritized and facilitated the export of privately sourced or donated goods to the Cuban people, focusing specifically on agricultural and medical exports; facilitated U.S. private sector faith-based organizations and other NGOs to provide humanitarian support; provided guidance to individuals and entities seeking to export to Cuba for the first time; . . . increased our support for the families of those who were detained; and increased, by $5 million, our support for censorship circumvention technology to support the ability of the Cuban people to communicate to, from, and among each other.”

In addition, the “new” policy was stated to fulfill President Biden’s commitment to the “Cuban American community and their family members in Cuba” by the following measures:

  • “[R]einstate the Cuba Family Reunification Parole Program and continue to increase the capacity for consular services. . . . [The U.S.] resumed limited immigrant visa processing [in Cuba] in early May and are looking to make sure that we staff up so that we can begin processing the full 20,000 immigrant visas out of Havana as quickly as possible.”
  • “[Strengthen] family ties and . . . [facilitate] educational connections for American and Cuban people by expanding authorized travel. . . . [That includes] specifically authorizing commercial and charter flights to locations beyond Havana.  We are reinstating group people-to-people educational travel under a general license, among a number of other measures.  We are not reinstating individual people-to-people educational travel.”
  • “[w]e are increasing support for independent Cuban entrepreneurs.  That includes encouraging commercial opportunities outside the state sector by using . . . independent Cuban entrepreneurs’ access to the Internet, cloud technology, programming interfaces, e-commerce platforms, and a number of other measures, including access to microfinance and training.”
  • The U.S. “will ensure that remittances flow more freely to the Cuban people while not enriching those who perpetrate human rights abuses.  . . . [That includes] removing the limit on family remittances of $1,000 per quarter per sender/receiver pair.  And we’ll authorize donative remittances, which will support Cuban families and independent Cuban entrepreneurs.”

In addition, the new policy will “continue to elevate the matter of human rights, the treatment of political prisoners, and . . . elevate the issue of labor rights in Cuba, [which more generally is “a core priority for the Biden-Harris administration.”

The authorization of group travel to Cuba will be limited to purposeful purposes, not tourism.

More generally the new policy is intended “to help alleviate the humanitarian suffering that prompts out-migration from Cuba and also to advance our interest in supporting the Cuban people and ensuring that Cuban Americans and Americans in general are also the best advanced ambassadors for U.S. policy.”

The U.S. will be increasing the staff at the Havana Embassy “with an appropriate security posture.”

There was no mention at this briefing of two very significant U.S. policies regarding Cuba: the U.S. embargo of the island and the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Therefore, both of them remain in effect with continued major impacts on the island and will be discussed below.

Reactions to the “New” U.S. Cuba Policy[2]

New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American and now the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the maintenance of the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List and the restart of the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program. But he was “dismayed” at its restarting group travel to the island because it will not breed democracy on the island and merely help the Cuban government fund its “continued repression.”

The harshest critic of the “new” policy was Ben Rhodes, who was President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor and involved in that administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. Said Rhodes, “Disappointed doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how I feel about the Biden-Cuba policy. Granted it was Trump” who initially reversed Obama’s policies, but “then Biden doubles down” on Trump’s policies. We had Trump—in the most grotesque, callous way—politicizing this. But then Biden doubles down. It’s a gaslighting to those people in Cuba ” (deliberately and systematically feeding false information that  leads recipients to question what they know to be true). (Emphasis added).

Scott Hamilton, who served as U.S. charge d’ affaires in Havana during Obama’s opening to Cuba, said Biden’s measures do not reorient relations, but “are more about addressing the need to get the numbers [of Cuban [emigrants] down on migration.”

It also should be noted that Biden left Trump’s sanctions in place as the coronavirus pandemic overwhelmed the island’s medical system and strangled tourism, a crucial source of cash and goods for families. Allowing U.S. flights only to Havana ignores the difficulties of obtaining and paying for land transportation to other parts of the island, and most hotels are off-limits under U.S. regulations. Biden’s relaxing limits on remittances to families on the island is a good idea, but it does not cope with the difficulties of U.S. blacklisting of the financial institution for electronic fund transfers, Fincimex, due to its ties to the Cuban military. A leading U.S. expert on Cuba, William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University, said, “What’s striking about these[Biden] measures is, there’s nothing about reopening the diplomatic dialogues that were ongoing at the end of the Obama administration.”

As a member of a church (Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian) that since 2001 has had a partnership with a Presbyterian church in Matanzas, Cuba and members who actively provide and maintain clean-water systems on the island,I welcome the new Policy’s encouraging “faith-based organizations to provide humanitarian support.” I, therefore, reject Senator Menendez’s criticism of encouraging group travel to the island.

The Biden administration is hoping that these new measures will reduce Cuba’s soaring out-migration. Apprehensions of Cubans on the U.S.-Mexico border have rocketed to more than 113,000 in the first seven months of this fiscal year, nearly three times as many as in all of fiscal 2021. These emigrants include some activists who were protesting in the streets last year, teachers, farmers and parents of young children who decided they would be better off leaving as the island’s economy continued to tank, the Cuban government having not enacted significant reforms and Nicaragua lifted its visa requirement, making travel there easier. This exodus is sapping Cuba of much of its youth while its population is aging and declining.

Now these economic problems have been exacerbated by the following two recent events:

  • In August 2022 oil storage tanks near the city of Matanzas on the north coast of the island were destroyed by a lightning strike. That destruction resulted in a heavy human toll and a serious blow to fuel for Cuba’s electric power generating system, which already had been tottering from lack of maintenance and investment. The U.S., however has not offered any help in responding to this emergency other than telephonic technical assistance.
  • More recently, on September 26, Hurricane Ian, a Category 3 storm, slammed into the western end of the island. The next morning videos showed residents walking through waist-deep water as waves continued to crash on shore. Power lines, trees and siding could be seen littered along the roads. Electric power throughout the island was damaged.

U.S. Embargo of Cuba[3]

On October 19, 1960, almost two years after the Cuban Revolution had taken over the island’s government, the Eisenhower administration launched the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba that prohibited all U.S. sales of goods and services to Cuba except food and medicine. That embargo continues in effect today, nearly 62 years later, with amplification by many U.S. statutes.

Cuba claims that to date it has suffered significant economic damages from the embargo and the U.N. General Assembly every year since 1992 (except 2020 due to the Covid pandemic) has adopted resolutions, by overwhelming margins, condemning the embargo as a violation of international law.

The last session to approve such a resolution happened on June 23, 2021, when the vote was 184 to 2 (the U.S. and Israel in opposition) with three abstentions (Colombia, Ukraine and Brazil). Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla told the Assembly that the embargo was a “massive, flagrant and unacceptable violation of the human rights of the Cuban people” and  “an economic war of extraterritorial scope against a small country already affected in the recent period by the economic crisis derived from the pandemic” with estimated 2020 losses alone to be $9.1 million.

The U.S. opposition at the last session was offered by Rodney Hunter, the Political Coordinator for the U.S Mission, who said sanctions are “one set of tools in the U.S. broader effort toward Cuba to advance democracy, promote respect for human rights, and help the Cuban people exercise fundamental freedoms.” Moreover, despite the blockade, the US recognizes “the challenges of the Cuban people” and therefore, the US was “a significant supplier of humanitarian goods to the Cuban people and one of Cuba’s principal trading partners. Every year we authorize billions of dollars’ worth of exports to Cuba, including food and other agricultural commodities, medicines, medical devices, telecommunications equipment, other goods, and other items to support the Cuban people. Advancing democracy and human rights remain at the core of our policy efforts.”

The current session of the General Assembly on November 2, 2022, will consider this year’s report by the U.N. Secretary-General, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The U.N. website for this report had a list of countries that had submitted comments (presumably supportive of the resolution), but did not include any comments from the U.S. or Israel, both of whom voted against the resolution in 2021, or from the three countries that abstained last year (Brazil, Colombia and Ukraine).

Therefore, it is fair to assume that the resolution against the U.S. embargo will again by overwhelmingly approved on November 2. Moreover, this blog continues to support abolishing the embargo.

U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”[4]

Since 1982 the United States has had different opinions as to whether Cuba was a “state sponsor of terrorism” under three U.S. statutes—the Export Administration Act (section 6(j)), the Arms Export Control Act (section 40) and the Foreign Assistance Act (Section 620A)—that authorize the Secretary of State to designate countries that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” as “state sponsors of terrorism” and thereby impose sanctions on such countries, including restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance, bans on U.S. defense exports and sales, controls over exports of dual use items and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

We will look at these different positions, including the Biden Administration’s current review of the Trump Administration’s last minute designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor.”

Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” 1982-2014. From 1982 through 2014, the U.S. designated Cuba as such a Sponsor.[5]

U.S. Rescinds Cuba’s “Sponsor” Designation, 2015.  [6] On April 14, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry publicly announced that the State Department had recommended that President Obama rescind the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” His press release stated that the prior week the “Department submitted a report to the White House recommending, based on the facts and the statutory standard, that President Obama rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

“This recommendation,” the Statement continued, “reflects the Department’s assessment that Cuba meets the criteria established by Congress for rescission . . . . whether Cuba provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six months, and whether Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” This conclusion was based, in part, upon “corroborative assurances received from the Government of Cuba.”

Nevertheless, according to the Secretary’s statement, “the United States has had, and continues to have, significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, [but] these concerns and disagreements fall outside of the criteria for designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

The same day (April 14, 2015), a White House press release stated the President had “submitted to Congress the statutorily required report and certifications indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.” That presidential decision was based upon the previously mentioned State Department recommendation that was based on its “careful review of Cuba’s record, which was informed by the Intelligence Community, as well as assurances provided by the Cuban government.”

This White House press release also stated, “As the President has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.  That determination is based on the statutory standard – and the facts – and those facts have led the President to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.  More broadly, the [U.S.] will continue to support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people.”

President Obama’s simultaneous message to Congress certified that “(i) the Government of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and (ii) the Government of Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”

U.S. Non-Designation of Cuba, 2016-2020.[7] From 2016 through the end of the Obama Administration in January 2017, the U.S. continued to not so designate Cuba as the U.S. and Cuba held several bilateral diplomatic meetings to discuss the many issues that had accumulated ever since the January 1, 1959, takeover of the Cuban government by the Cuban Revolution.

At  their May 2016 Law Enforcement Dialogue, the U.S. State Department said that “law enforcement is an area of mutual interest to both the U.S. and Cuba as we advance toward normalized relations. We anticipate that the dialogue will be productive, and an additional opportunity to reinforce the benefits of law enforcement cooperation. During the dialogue, the United States and Cuba will continue to discuss a wide range of areas of cooperation, including counterterrorism, counternarcotic, transnational crime, cybercrime, secure travel and trade, and fugitives.”

The framework for the dialogue was the May 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Cuban Ministry of Interior. This MOU set the basis of cooperation in exchanging risk information for travelers, cargo or conveyances in international transit; the continuation of periodic, mutual, and reciprocal assessments regarding air, sea, and port security; and the coordination of transportation security, screening of cargo, travelers and baggage, and the design of secure, efficient inspection facilities at ports and airports, among other things.

The next month, June 2016,  the U.S. and Cuba met in Havana for their first Counterterrorism Technical Exchange. The State Department said, “Coordination and cooperation on counterterrorism has been one of several important topics discussed in law enforcement dialogues between the United States and Cuba. We welcome the opportunity to bring together technical experts to discuss this topic of common interest.” Afterwards, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said that the meeting was conducted with “respect and professionalism” and that “both parties agreed on the importance of progress in cooperation in this sphere and agreed to continue the meetings of technicians on the topic.”

During the last weeks of the Obama Administration in January 2017, the U.S. and Cuba signed the following four agreements:

  • Cuba Memorandum of Understanding on Law Enforcement “to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and other international criminal activities.”
  • Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen cooperation in the field of maritime and aeronautical search and rescue by enhancing effectiveness and efficiency in assisting persons in distress and to act in furtherance of obligations under international law.
  • U.S., Cuba and Mexico signed a treaty to set territorial limits in contested Gulf of Mexico waters. The treaty covers the Eastern Gap of the Gulf of Mexico, an area believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. The three countries’ overlapping claims in the Eastern Gap had created what is known as a “Doughnut Hole.” Trilateral discussions begun in mid-2016 on the maritime territorial issue were concluded by the end of the year.
  • U.S. and Cuba memorandum of understanding to help prevent the introduction and spread of quarantine pests, animal and plant disease agents through the exchange of scientific information, best practices for the prevention and control of plagues and emerging diseases, collaborative scientific projects, including the use of technology, research and surveillance, and the holding of events on specific aspects of animal and plant health.

In addition, the Trump Administration for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 did not designate Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

U.S. Re-Designation of Cuba as “Sponsor,2021-22.[8] On January 11, 2021 (with only nine days left of the Trump Administration), U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo announced that Cuba was being re-designated as a “State Sponsor” to join Iran, North Korea and Syria. Here is what his statement said:

  • “The State Department has designated Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism for repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.”
  • “The Trump Administration has been focused from the start on denying the Castro regime the resources it uses to oppress its people at home, and countering its malign interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere.”
  • “With this action, we will once again hold Cuba’s government accountable and send a clear message: the Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of U.S. justice.”
  • “For decades, the Cuban government has fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers, and hijackers, while many Cubans go hungry, homeless, and without basic medicine.  Members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, traveled to Havana to conduct peace talks with the Colombian government in 2017.  Citing peace negotiation protocols, Cuba has refused Colombia’s requests to extradite ten ELN leaders living in Havana after the group claimed responsibility for the January 2019 bombing of a Bogota police academy that killed 22 people and injured more than 87 others.”
  • “Cuba also harbors several U.S. fugitives from justice wanted on or convicted of charges of political violence, many of whom have resided in Cuba for decades.  For example, the Cuban regime has refused to return Joanne Chesimard, on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List for executing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973; Ishmael LaBeet, convicted of killing eight people in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1972; Charles Lee Hill, charged with killing New Mexico state policeman Robert Rosenbloom in 1971; and others.”
  • “Cuba returns to the SST list following its broken commitment to stop supporting terrorism as a condition of its removal by the previous administration in 2015.  On May 13, 2020, the State Department notified Congress that it had certified Cuba under Section 40A(a) of the Arms Export Control Act as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts in 2019.”
  • “In addition to the support for international terrorism that is the basis for today’s action, the Cuban regime engages in a range of malign behavior across the region.  The Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces, assisting Nicholas Maduro to maintain his stranglehold over his people while allowing terrorist organizations to operate.  The Cuban government’s support for FARC dissidents and the ELN continues beyond Cuba’s borders as well, and the regime’s support of Maduro has created a permissive environment for international terrorists to live and thrive within Venezuela.”
  • “Today’s designation subjects Cuba to sanctions that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with Cuba, restricts U.S. foreign assistance, bans defense exports and sales, and imposes certain controls on exports of dual use items.”
  • “The United States will continue to support the Cuban people in their desire for a democratic government and respect for human rights, including freedom of religion, expression, and association.  Until these rights and freedoms are respected, we will continue to hold the regime accountable.”

So far in 2022, the U.S. has not taken any further action regarding this designation. However, at a July 21, 2022, press conference a journalist asked, “Is the administration’s position that Cuba still meets the legal requirements to be a state sponsor of terrorism?” The only response to that question came from  Ned Price, the Department’s spokesman, who said, “The fact pattern that led a previous administration to [so] designate Cuba . . . is in the public record.”

One year after the July 11, 2021 protests in Cuba, the United States recognizes the determination and courage of the Cuban people as they continue to fight for respect for human rights and persevere through repression during a historic year. We celebrate the Cuban people and commend their indomitable determination.

Conclusion

This blogger strongly favors a return to the Obama Administration’s pursuit of normalization of relations with Cuba as well as its rescinding the designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and its support for abolishing the U.S. embargo. These opinions are further supported by the recent explosion of Cuba’s oil storage tanks and its being hit by Hurricane Ira as well as recognizing that Cuba is a much smaller country than the U.S. with much more limited military and security forces.

Comments from readers to correct or supplement any of the discussion or citations to the record of these complex issues would be appreciated.

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[1] White House, Background Press Call By Senior Administration Officials On New Cuba Policy (May  16, 2022).

[2] Sheridan & Chaoul, As Biden eases Trump’s sanctions, Cubans hope for an economic life, Wash. Post (June 2, 2022); Armario, Last year, Cubans took to the streets. Now they’re fleeing the island, Wash. Post (July 11, 2022); Isikoff, Former top Obama aide accuses Biden of ‘gaslighting’ Cuba: ‘Disappointed doesn’t begin to scratch the surface,’ Yahoo News (Sept. 14, 2022); Matanzas oil storage facility explosion, Wikipedia (Aug. 5, 2022); 17 missing, dozens hurt as fire rages in Cuban oil tank farm, MPRNews (Aug. 6, 2022); Fire at Cuban oil storage facility further exacerbated electricity shortages, wsws.org (Aug. 12, 2022); Cuba’s oil fire is contained—but the disaster has sparked U.S.-Cuba diplomatic flames, wusf news (Aug. 12, 2022); Finch, Residents in Cuba wake-up to waist-deep water after Ian makes landfall, Accuweather.com (Sept. 7, 2022); Last Minute, Hurricane Ian: the center leaves Cuban soil, but continues to hit with intense  winds, rains and strong swells, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 27, 2022); Byrne, Latest AccuWeather Eye Path forecast takes Ian’s landfall south of Tampa, Acuweather (Sept. 27, 2022); Live: the passage of Hurricane Ian through Cuba, Granma.com (Sept. 27, 2022); Cuba Foreign Ministry, The economic blockade against Cuba must end, (Sept. 7, 2022).

[3] United States embargo against Cuba, Wikipedia; UN General Assembly calls for US to end Cuba embargo for 29th consecutive year, UN News (June 23, 2021); U.N., Schedule of General Assembly Plenary and Related Meetings (Sept. 27, 2022). See also posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba (as of 5/4/20].

[4] See posts listed in “Cuba: State Sponsor of Terrorism?” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries: Topical—Cuba [as of 5/4/20].

[5] Ibid.

[6] See President Obama Rescinds U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” dwkcommentaries.com (April 15, 2015).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Crowley, Augustin & Semple, Pompeo Returns Cuba to Terrorism Sponsor List, Constraining Biden’s Plans, N.Y. Times (Jan. 11, 2021 & updated 2/15/21).

U.S. 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom

On June 2, 2022, the U.S. State Department released its 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom. It “describes the status of religious freedom in every country. The report covers government policies violating religious  denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. The U.S. Department of State submits the reports in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.”[1]

The Report includes these sources on the subject: (a) Universal Declaration of Human Rights; (b) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (c) Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief; (d) Religious Freedom Provisions, Commitments, and Obligations from Regional Bodies and Instruments; (e) Department of State Training Related to the International Religious Freedom Act-2021; (f) Department of Homeland Security and the International Religious Freedom Act; and (g) Overview of U.S. Refugee Policy—2021.

There is no overall summary of this freedom in 2021 throughout the world. Instead, as the above summary indicates, the report has separate reports for “every country” in the world. After a summary of its report on Cuba, which is chosen because a Minneapolis church, Westminster Presbyterian, has had partnerships with the island’s Presbyterian-Reformed Church since 2002, there will be general comments from that Cuban church and Westminster.

State Department Report on Cuba

Cuban Religious Demography

According to the Report, “The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11 million (midyear 2021).  There is no independent, authoritative source on the overall size or composition of religious groups.  The Catholic Church estimates 60 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.  Membership in Protestant churches is estimated at 5 percent.  According to some observers, Pentecostals and Baptists are likely the largest Protestant denominations.  The Assemblies of God reports approximately 150,000 members; the four Baptist conventions estimate their combined membership at more than 100,000.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses estimate their members at 95,000; Methodists 50,000; Seventh-day Adventists 36,000; Presbyterians 25,000; Anglicans 22,500; Episcopalians 10,000; Anabaptists 4,387 (mostly Iglesia de Los Hermanos en Cristo, the Brethren of Christ); Quakers 1,000; Moravians 750; and the Church of Jesus Christ 357 members.  There are approximately 4,000 followers of 50 Apostolic churches (an unregistered, loosely affiliated network of Protestant churches, also known as the Apostolic Movement) and a separate New Apostolic Church associated with the New Apostolic Church International.  According to some Christian leaders, evangelical Protestant groups continue to grow in the country.  The Jewish community estimates it has 1,200 members, of whom 1,000 reside in Havana.  According to a representative of the Islamic League, there are approximately 4,000 Muslims in the country, of whom fewer than half are native-born.  The representative also said that the majority of the Muslim population is Sunni.  Immigrants and native-born citizens practice several different Buddhist traditions, with estimates of 6,200 followers.  The largest group of Buddhists is the Japanese Soka Gakkai; its estimated membership is 1,000.  Other religious groups with small numbers of adherents include Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Baha’is.”

“Many individuals, particularly Afro-Cubans, practice religions with roots across Africa, including Yoruba groups often referred to by outsiders as Santeria, but by adherents as the order of Lucumi or Orisha worship.  Bantu-influenced groups refer to themselves as Palo Monte.  These religious practices are commonly intermingled with Catholicism and other forms of Christianity, and some require Catholic baptism for full initiation, making it difficult to estimate accurately their total membership.  Rastafarian adherents also have a presence on the island, although the size of the community is unknown.”

Religious Freedom in Cuba

According to the Report’s Executive Summary, “The country’s constitution contains written provisions for religious freedom and prohibitions against discrimination based on religious grounds.  According to the religious freedom advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), through its Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), continued to control most aspects of religious life.  In its annual Watch List, Open Doors reported a continued rise in persecution of Christians in the country.  According to media, on July 11, security forces (a general term covering military, police, and vigilante forces) committed acts of violence against, detained, and harassed religious leaders from multiple faith communities who were participating in peaceful demonstrations across the country.  According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), security forces beat Roman Catholic priest Jose Castor Alvarez Devesa when he offered aid to an injured person at a protest in Camaguey on July 11.  CSW reported Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo faced up to a 10-year sentence for participating in a march the same day.  Rosales Fajardo was found guilty of charges in December and awaited sentencing at year’s end.  Sissi Abascal Zamora, a member of the Ladies in White opposition group, received a six-year sentence for participating in the July protests.  Authorities continued to subject members of the Association of Free Yorubas of Cuba (Free Yorubas) to arbitrary detentions, threats, physical violence, and verbal harassment.  The U.S.-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Global Liberty Alliance reported four members of Free Yorubas faced extended pretrial detention after their arrests following the July protests and prison sentences of up to 10 years.  The Spanish NGO Cuban Observatory of Human Rights registered at least 30 acts against leaders and laypersons from multiple faith communities as the government attempted to suppress public support for peaceful protests called for November 15.  According to NGO and media reports, those actions included the orchestration of demonstrations (acts of repudiation) in front of the homes of Catholic priests, police surveillance, internet cuts, and the harassment of a nun as she left her residence in Havana to meet a friend.  In August, security service officials arrested Apostolic Church pastor Alain Toledano Valiente for ‘propagating the COVID pandemic’ when he held what he said was a socially distanced service.  Religious groups reported the ORA and MOJ continued to deny official registration to certain groups, including to several Apostolic churches, or did not respond to long-pending applications, such as those for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).”

“Some religious groups and organizations, such as the Catholic charity Caritas, continued to gather and distribute relief items, providing humanitarian assistance to individuals regardless of religious belief.  The Catholic-affiliated Community of Sant’Egidio continued to hold prayer and small group meetings in spite of COVID-19 restrictions.”

“Due to a lack of government responsiveness, U.S. embassy officials did not meet with or otherwise engage the ORA during the year.  In public statements and on social media, U.S. government officials, including the Secretary of State, continued to call upon the government to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the freedom of religion.  Embassy officials met regularly with a range of religious groups concerning the state of religious freedom and political activities related to religious groups’ beliefs.”

“On November 15, 2021, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State again placed Cuba on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.”

Recent Devotion from Cuban Presbyterian-Reformed Church[3]

The Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba prepares daily devotions in Spanish (with English translations) that are available on the Internet. Here, for example, is their devotion for June 26, 2022, the 132nd Anniversary of the church: “Following Jesus (Luke 9:51-62).”

“Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

“A new section of the Gospel of Luke begins with these verses, Jesus’ resolve to travel to Jerusalem.   The three candidates for discipleship illustrate the demands that are implied by following Jesus; they teach that emotional enthusiasm is not sufficient and neither are we capable of abandoning all to follow him.”

“Loyalty to Christ takes precedence over any other loyalties.   In one of the cases the man tried to excuse himself by saying that he had to care for his dead father.   The spiritually dead should bury their dead, but the followers of Jesus should fulfill the urgent work of proclaiming the good news.   This is not an argument in favor of insensitivity but is a lesson against delay in fulfilling an order.”

“Jesus focuses his attention on one truth: to serve his cause demands complete dedication. To not be suitable for the Reign of God means a discipleship through which God is unable to use us in the best way.”

“What does Jesus want of us?   Complete dedication, not half delivery.   We don’t have the right to follow him at our convenience; we should accept the cross together with the crown, judgment together with mercy.   One must take into account the cost and to be ready to abandon everything.   We should not allow anything to distract us from the path of living what he calls good and true.”

“Prayer: Lord, allow us to be alert to your call and not continually excuse ourselves.   In the name of Jesus, Amen”

Report from Westminster Presbyterian Church[4]

“For more than 20 years, Westminster has had a partnership with people and institutions in Cuba, making it our longest global partnership. Well over 100 Westminster members and staff have visited Cuba to experience the culture, welcome, and resilience of the Cuban people. The situation in Cuba remains dire due to food shortages, economic despair, and political unrest. Yet, as of January 1, our partner church, El Redentor/Versalles (Versalles) in Matanzas has welcomed a new pastor, the Rev. Anays Noda, and her family. They bring a renewed energy and new members into the church.”

“After building renovation and much hard work, our siblings at Versalles are eagerly readying for visitors from Westminster. A group of five Westminster members plan to travel in July to revisit the seven clean water installations Westminster currently sponsors [on the island] and to assess a potential new site, anticipating installation later this year. A highlight of the trip will be a chance to worship in person again at Versalles. A congregational trip is also being planned for early 2023 offering a unique experience to witness God’s love this whole world over.”

Conclusion[5]

Any discussion of Cuban religious freedom should expressly recognize its enormous economic problems associated with the worldwide COVID pandemic and the resulting severe negative economic impact on Cuba’s market for international tourism and hence Cuban opportunities for employment and entrepreneurial activities. These and other developments, including the continued U.S. embargo of the island, have caused increased numbers of Cuban seeking to flee the island and protests on the island over desperate conditions.

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

[1] State Dep’t, 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom (June 2, 2022).

[2] Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 13, 2015}. See generally “Cuban Human Rights” section (with discussions of earlier U.S. reports on Cuban religious freedom) of  List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA [as of 5/4/20].

[3]   Daily Devotions of the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba (June 26, 2022).

[4]  Our Global Partners in Cuba, Westminster News (July 2022). This blogger treasures his having been on three Westminster mission trips to Cuba and the friendships he has developed with Cubans. (Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 13, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 4, 2015). See generally List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA [as of 5/4/20].

[5] See, e.g., Frank, Cuba sees slow economic recovery at 4% in 2022—Official, Reuters (Dec. 12, 2021); Cubans arriving in record numbers along Mexico border, Wash. Post (April 7, 2022); Cuba economic crisis and political crackdown pushes many to immigrate, Al Jazeera YouTube (May 2022); Cuban Migrants Arrive to U.S. in Record Numbers, on Foot, Not by Boat, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2022); With the world distracted, Cuba cracks down on dissident artists, Wash. Post (June 27, 2022)..

 

 

Prayer and Meditation for Walter Mondale by Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen

At the May 1, 2022 memorial service for Walter Mondale, Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, the Senior Pastor at Mondale’s Minneapolis church, Westminster Presbyterian, delivered the following prayer and Meditation.

Prayer

“Let us pray:”

 “Gracious God, we gather in this Easter season to give you thanks and   praise for the life and witness of Walter F. Mondale. In remembering him and his legacy of public service, help us recall the source of the values that guided him. You summon us to seek justice, to uphold the full humanity of all, to ensure equal access – and to do so with kindness and humility. Your servant Fritz embraced those gospel ideals.”

“As we face the mystery of death help us, we pray, to see the light of eternity, the light that now shines on Fritz, Joan, and Eleanor. With the power of a love that knows no bounds, hold them close, and comfort and encourage all who continue to struggle for the world you desire for the human community.”

 “ In your name we pray. Amen.”

 Meditation

“Fritz Mondale was born into a home steeped in biblical wisdom and solid, southern Minnesota common sense. Theodore, his Methodist-pastor father, would have trained for the ministry in the time when the social gospel was ascendant. The values of doing good and making the world a better place for all were taught in the Mondale household and in Sunday School by Fritz’s mother, Claribel, who also played the piano at church.”

“’I believe I attended more church services,’ Fritz once said, ‘Sang in more weddings and funerals, attended more Sunday Schools, than any public official in the history of southern Minnesota.’”

“His family drew from the well of Methodist teaching that linked passion, discipline, intellect, and concern for ‘the least of these.’ It was a potent combination of a heart aflame with rigorous commitment to serve the most vulnerable in society. That theological context formed young Fritz, and it would define his character all his life.”

“’My faith and my family have been my greatest blessings in my life,’ he said in a speech not long ago.  ‘I was taught that ours was a faith of decency and social justice, based on the great commandment to love your God and to love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Like many of us in the Protestant world, Fritz did not wear religion on his sleeve. In fact, he was suspicious of anyone who did. His was a Beatitudes-based faith, drawing on the simple teaching of Jesus: ‘Blessed are those who are meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who are poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who make peace, for they will be called children of God.’”

“Fritz found the holy in what Wendell Berry calls ‘the peace of wild things,’ whether at their cabin in the St. Croix Valley or fishing up north. His work in protecting rivers was driven by home-grown Minnesota commitment to stewardship of the earth. ‘Wilderness is a spiritual necessity,’ Sigurd Olson said in words that Fritz lived, ‘A means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.’ An usher at church this morning told me how grateful he and his fishing buddies are for what Fritz did to protect the rivers of this land. He said he never got a chance to thank him in person. So, on his and his buddies’ behalf, Thank you, Fritz.”  (Olson, The Spiritual Aspects of Wilderness (1961))

“Every time Fritz referred to his upbringing – which he did regularly – it was his way of remembering what had shaped his life and formed the person he became.”

“The Mondales were faithful members of the church I serve, Westminster Presbyterian in Minneapolis. Joan’s father was a Presbyterian chaplain at Macalester College, which Fritz attended before the U of M. He met Joan on a blind date at Macalester. It was the start of their beautiful life together.”

“The nation saw and admired Fritz’ public service; I did, too, and as his pastor I also saw the husband and father who deeply loved his family. The loss of Eleanor tore open his heart, and Joan’s death took part of his life, as well. Millions of Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, two-thirds of whom are women. As Joan declined, Fritz tenderly cared for her right to the end, rarely leaving her side.”

“Toward the end of his life, he said he looked forward to being with them both again. Fritz trusted in the power of God’s love in this life and the next. He was not concerned about the state of his soul.”

“Shortly after his 90th birthday party, held here at the University, I had lunch with him. As I sometimes do with older parishioners, I asked if he ever thought about the end of life. He glanced around the noisy place, leaned forward, and said quietly, ‘In the strict confidentiality of this room, I will tell you that I will be the first person to live forever. I’ve made the arrangements.’”

“I thanked him for letting me in on the secret.”

“’Actually,’ he said, ‘I understand it happens to everyone at some point. Do you think Carter will come?’”

“President Carter has sent words we will hear later, but he was able to be here for Joan’s memorial service in Westminster’s sanctuary and gave a moving tribute to her and to the life partnership she had with Fritz.”

“Walter Mondale may not have been concerned about the state of his soul, but he was concerned about the state of his nation, especially in recent years.”

“The rise of the religious Right as a powerful force in American politics was a source of considerable consternation to him. ‘Tell me what’s going on with these fundamentalist preachers,’ he would say to me – as if I knew.”

“Fritz understood neither the Christianity they espoused nor the politics they practiced. Both were utterly foreign to his way of living out a quiet faith through public policy aimed squarely at justice for those on the receiving end of the cruelties of history. His Christianity was kind and humble. It confounded him when fellow believers were neither.”

“Once when we were at a meal in a restaurant word got out in the kitchen that the vice-president was eating there.  The kitchen door opened and one-by-one the dishwashers and bussers, all of them immigrants, came out to shake his hand and thank him for his service to the nation. Fritz treated each one with respect and dignity.”

“On his office desk, Fritz had taped some lines from Psalm 15. The Hebrew poet provided the scriptural framing of the politics he practiced. As I read these words, contrast them with much of what passes for political leadership today (present company excepted):

Lord, who can be trusted with power, and who may act in your place? Those with a passion for justice, who speak the truth from their hearts; who have let go of selfish interests and grown beyond their own lives; who see the wretched as their family and the poor as their flesh and blood. They alone are impartial and worthy of the people’s trust. Their compassion lights up the whole earth, and their kindness endures forever.”

“Theodore and Claribel’s son, born 94 years ago, grew up and entered political life and served his beloved Minnesota and our nation for decades, never wandering far from his roots.”

Thanks be to God for the life of Fritz Mondale.

“Thanks be to God for love that cannot be taken from us.

 “Thanks be to God.

  “Amen.”

Background on Westminster Presbyterian Church[1]

Westminster was founded in Minneapolis in 1857 by eight people of Scotch, Irish, and Welsh heritage and moved to its current location at 12th Street and Nicollet Avenue in 1883 and its current Sanctuary at that location in 1897. Its latest expansion was in 2018, when a modern two-story  40,000 square-foot wing was added with church bells crafted in France. (Here are photographs of the church.)

With over 3,000 members today, Westminster is “an engaged, urban partner sharing good news with a world in need of God’s peace, love, and justice [as a] vibrant, open-minded congregation.” It “is a place where people of all ages and backgrounds deepen their faith and make a difference in the world.” It “offers ministries in adult, children, and youth education; music and the arts; and social justice, with a highly engaged congregation that welcomes and cares deeply for all people within and beyond its walls.”

Westminster is “an open and affirming congregation” that “because of our commitment to the love and justice of Jesus Christ, . . .fully welcomes persons of all sexual orientations and gender expressions and identities.” It “was involved in the movement to change the Presbyterian Church’s ordination standards to allow any church member to freely serve and be elected as a minster, elder, or deacon. Our church was a leader in the movement for marriage equality in the State of Minnesota and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Prior to the legalization of marriage equality, Westminster’s pastors celebrated the love and commitment of same-sex couples, and continue now to happily officiate at weddings recognized by the State of Minnesota.”

Westminster has “heightened awareness of the systemic and critical issues affecting our community, brought to greater attention in recent years, most especially in response to the murder of George Floyd. Through [adult education] we will learn about long-standing needs, and become more prepared to support all members of our community. In arriving at this theme, we are guided by the beliefs we share with congregations of the Presbyterian Church (USA), “God sends the Church to work for justice in the world: exercising its power for the common good…seeking dignity and freedom for all people” (Book of Order, W-5.0304). And with this theme we are reconnecting with Westminster’s hope for a just (Micah 6:8), loving (I Corinthians 16:14), joyful (Galatians 5:22), sustainable (Psalm 8), and peaceful (John 14:27) community.”

Since 1980 the church has sponsored the Westminster Town Hall Forum, which is broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio, to discuss “key issues of our day in an ethical perspective.” Speakers have included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, Thomas Friedman, Cornel West, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, David McCullough, Marcus Borg, Marian Wright Edelman, Barbara Brown Taylor, David Brooks, Salman Rushdie, Gwen Ifill, and Bryan Stevenson.

Westminster’s Global Partners Ministry Team nurtures the church’s long-standing relationships with faith communities in Cameroon, Cuba, and Palestine (West Bank). The team plans opportunities for Westminster members to visit sister congregations and related Christian organizations in these communities to share friendship, prayer, worship, and community service. These global partnerships have resulted not only in treasured congregational relationships, but also in deepening of our shared faith.

Most recently Westminster with the assistance of the Minnesota Council of Churches has become a co-sponsor of an Afghan family.

Rev. Hart-Andersen is a member of the Downtown Interfaith Senior Clergy of Minneapolis along with religious leaders of faith traditions that include Judaism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Humanism. One example of their work was the prompt condemnation of the Minneapolis killing of George Floyd.

Rev. Hart-Andersen has been Westminster’s Senior Pastor since 1999 and “is passionate about Westminster’s mission to be fully engaged in the life of the city and in transforming lives and systems in pursuit of the love and justice of Jesus Christ. ‘Westminster is a community thoroughly engaged in living faithfully in complex times. I am grateful that the church is willing to learn and change, to grow and take risks, all in an effort to fulfill the gospel mandate to ‘love God and neighbor.’”

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

[1] Westminster Presbyterian Church, History; Westminster, What we believe; Westminster. Social Justice Forum; Westminster Town Hall Forum; Westminster Global Partners Ministry TeamMinneapolis Religious Leaders Condemn Killing of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (June 8, 2020); Westminster, Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen. This blogger is a Westminster member and non-ruling elder who has been involved in leading our Global Partners Ministry Team and has been on  mission trips to Cuba and Cameroon and is now involved in our co-sponsorship of an Afghan family. (See these posts about religion, Cuba and Cameroon.)

 

 

 

U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Cameroon Human Rights

On April 12, 2022, the U.S. State Department released its 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights. This report is the latest annual report for nearly five decades that “strive[s] to provide a factual and objective record on the status of human rights worldwide.” The 2021 report covers 198 countries and territories. [1]

Cameroon Human Rights[2]

Here is the outline of the details on the status of various human rights in each of the 198 countries and territories, including Cameroon:

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

  1. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
  2. Disappearance
  3. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading treatment or Punishment
  4. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
  5. Denial of Fair Public Trial
  6. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, Or Correspondence

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

  1. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
  2. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
  3. Freedom of Religion
  4. Freedom of Movement and the Right To Leave the Country
  5. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced People
  6. Protection of Refugees

Section 3.  Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Section 4.  Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Section 5.  Governmental Posture Towards International and           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Section 6.  Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Section 7. Worker Rights

Executive Summary of Cameroon Human Rights

The report on Cameroon begins with the following Executive Summary.

“Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The president retains power over the legislative and judicial branches of government. The ruling political party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, has remained in power since its creation in 1985. The country held legislative elections in February 2020 that were marked by irregularities. The ruling party won 152 of 180 National Assembly seats. Paul Biya has served as president since 1982. He was last reelected in 2018 in an election marked by irregularities.”

“The national police and the national gendarmerie are responsible for internal security. The former reports to the General Delegation of National Security and the latter to the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the Gendarmerie. The army shares some domestic security responsibilities; it reports to the minister delegate at the presidency in charge of defense. The Rapid Intervention Battalion reports directly to the president. Civilian and military authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.”

“Casualties rose in the Anglophone crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. Anglophone separatists used improvised explosive devices with greater success. ISIS-West Africa increased attacks in the Far North Region. The government continued to crack down on the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement, and in December several of its members were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from one to seven years following protests in 2020.”

“Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government and nonstate armed groups; forced disappearances by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government and nonstate armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including abductions and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nonstate armed groups; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigations and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults.”

“Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption, it did not do so systematically and rarely held public proceedings. Impunity remained a serious problem.”

“Armed separatists, Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, and criminal gangs also committed human rights abuses, some of which were investigated by the government.”

Conclusion[3]

Commenting on this report, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said governments around the world, including Russia and China, grew more repressive last year. One example was the increasingly brazen way governments were “reaching across borders to threaten and attack critics” while some governments such as Cuba, Egypt and Russia were quick to lock up critics at home. Blinken also noted there had been “a serious erosion of human rights” in Afghanistan.

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

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights (April 12, 2022).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cameroon (April 12, 2022).

[3] Crowley, U.S. Report Describes a Global Retreat on Human Rights and Democracy, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2022);U.S. State DRyan, Human rights and democracy eroding worldwide, U.S. finds, Wash. Post (April 12, 2022).

 

U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Cuban Human Rights

On April 12, 2022, the U.S. State Department released its 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights. This report is the latest annual report that for nearly five decades has striven “to provide a factual and objective record on the status of human rights worldwide.” The 2021 report covers 198 countries and territories. [1]

Cuban Human Rights[2]

Here is the outline of the details on the status of various human rights in each of the 198 countries and territories, including Cuba:

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

  1. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
  2. Disappearance
  3. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading treatment or Punishment
  4. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
  5. Denial of Fair Public Trial
  6. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, Or Correspondence

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

  1. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
  2. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
  3. Freedom of Religion
  4. Freedom of Movement and the Right To Leave the Country
  5. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced People
  6. Protection of Refugees

Section 3.  Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Section 4.  Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Section 5.  Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Section 6.  Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Section 7. Worker Rights

Executive Summary of Cuban Human Rights

The report on Cuba begins with the following Executive Summary.

“Cuba is an authoritarian state. The 2019 constitution codifies that Cuba remains a one-party system in which the Communist Party is the only legal political party. On April 19, President Miguel Diaz-Canel replaced former president Raul Castro as first secretary of the Communist Party, the highest political entity of the state by law. Elections were neither free nor fair nor competitive.”

“The Ministry of Interior controls police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police are the primary law enforcement organization. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses, and the number of political prisoners increased dramatically, with many held in pretrial detention under extremely harsh and degrading conditions.”

“On January 28, security forces violently arrested more than 20 artists and journalist peacefully protesting in front of the Ministry of Culture for the release of detained artists. On July 11, spontaneous peaceful protests broke out across the island. In the largest and most widespread demonstrations in decades, tens of thousands of citizens across the country poured into the streets to demand an end to repression as well as to criticize the government’s failure to meet their basic needs and its poor response to COVID-19. Social media posts helped spread news of the protests among citizens. Security forces responded with tear gas, beatings, and arrests. First Secretary of the Communist Party and President Miguel Diaz-Canel went on national television to call on “all revolutionaries and communists to confront these protests,” a reference to Article Four of the 2019 constitution, which gives citizens the right to “combat through any means, including armed combat” any who “intend to topple the political, social, and economic order established by this constitution.” Many of those arrested reported cruel and degrading treatment in prison. In October authorities denied permission for a protest planned for November 15 and threatened organizers. The government conducted summary trials for some protesters; sought long prison sentences, some up to 30 years, in hundreds of cases; and held other protesters in extended pretrial detention. Some activists chose to go into exile, and the government forced others to do so.”

“Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by the government; forced disappearance by the government; torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; reprisals against family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media including violence or threats of violence against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws used against persons who criticized government leadership; serious restrictions on internet freedom; severe restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly and denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections, including serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; a lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; and outlawing of independent trade unions.”

“Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses. As a matter of policy, officials failed to investigate or prosecute those who committed these abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread, as was impunity for official corruption.”

Conclusion[3]

Commenting on this report, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said governments around the world, including Russia and China, grew more repressive last year. One example was the increasingly brazen way governments were “reaching across borders to threaten and attack critics” while some governments such as Cuba, Egypt and Russia were quick to lock up critics at home. Blinken also noted there had been “a serious erosion of human rights” in Afghanistan.

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

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights (April 12, 2022).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba (April 12, 2022).

[3] Crowley, U.S. Report Describes a Global Retreat on Human Rights and Democracy, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2022).; Ryan, Human rights and democracy eroding worldwide, U.S. finds, Wash. Post (April 12, 2022).

 

Strong Recommendation for New U.S. Policy for Engagement with Cuba

On December 17 a strong recommendation for a new U.S. policy for engagement was put forward by the Center for Democracy in the Americas and the Washington Office on Latin America.[1]

It sets forth the Case for Engagement; the First Nine Months of the Biden Administration (Repairing the Damage); The Second Year [of the Biden Administration] (Taking the Initiative); and Finishing the Job: A Legislative Agenda.

For example, here are the major points of its Case for Engagement that advance the interests of the U.S. and those of the Cuban people:

  • “Engagement begins with constructive diplomacy that includes cooperation on issues of mutual interest and negotiations on issues in conflict.”
  • “Engagement is a more effective strategy to advance the cause of human rights, political liberty, and economic reform.”
  • “Engagement must include civil society—cultural, educational, scientific, and familial linkages that foster mutual understanding, reconciliation, and cultural enrichment for both peoples.”
  • “Engagement will facilitate commercial ties, expanding the market for U.S. businesses, raising the standard of living for the Cuban people, and encouraging economic reform.”
  • “Engagement will serve as a counterweight to the aspirations that global competitors like Russia and China have in Cuba.”
  • “Engagement accomplished in two years more than the policy of hostility achieved in sixty years.”

The Center for Democracy in the Americas is “a non-partisan 501(c )(3) institution dedicated to promoting a U.S. policy toward the Americas based on engagement and mutual respect, fostering dialogue with those governments and movements with which U.S. policy is at adds, and recognizing positive trends in democracy and governance.” It was founded in 2008 by Sarah Stevens.[2]

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is “ a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas. We envision a future where public policies protect human rights and recognize human dignity, and where justice overcomes violence. WOLA tackles problems that transcend borders and demand cross-border solutions. We create strategic partnerships with courageous people making social change—advocacy organizations, academics, religious and business leaders, artists, and government officials. Together, we advocate for more just societies in the Americas.”[3]

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

[1] Democracy in the Americas,  The United States and Cuba; A New Policy of Engagement (Dec. 17, 2020); Center Democracy in Americas, Joint Press Release. The Washington Office on Latin America and the Center for Democracy in the Americas publish “The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement” (Dec. 17, 2020); WOLA., The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement (Dec.2020).

[2] Center for Democracy in the Americas, Our Work.

[3] WOLA, About Us.

President Trump Announces Categories for U.S. Admission of Refugees for Fiscal 2021             

On September 30, the U.S. State Department announced that President Trump had reduced the U.S. quota for admission of refugees to 15,000 for Fiscal Year 2021 (October 1, 2020-September 30, 2021) that would be documented in a subsequent presidential determination.[1]

That Presidential Determination confirming the 15,000 limitation was issued on October 28 in the form of a memorandum to the Secretary of State. It also announced allocations “among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States.”[2] Here are those allocations:

Number Category
5,000 Refugees who: have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion; or are within a category of aliens established under subsections (b) and (c) of section 599D of Title V, Public Law 101-167, as amended (the Lautenberg and Specter Amendments). [(i) “aliens who are or were nationals and residents of the Soviet Union and who share common characteristics that identify them as targets of persecution in the Soviet Union on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” including “nationals and residents of the Soviet Union and who are Jews or Evangelical Christians ” and (ii) “aliens who are or were nationals and residents of Vietnam, Laos, or Cambodia and who share common characteristics that identify them as targets of persecution in such respective foreign state on such an account.
4,000 Refugees who are within a category of aliens listed in section 1243(a) of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007, Title XII, Div. A, Public Law 110-181, as amended: “[1) Iraqis who were or are employed by the United States Government, in Iraq;(2) Iraqis who establish to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State that they are or were employed in Iraq by–(A) a media or nongovernmental organization headquartered in the United States; or (B) an organization or entity closely associated with the United States mission in Iraq that has received United States Government funding through an official and documented contract, award, grant, or cooperative agreement; and 3) spouses, children, and parents whether or not  accompanying or following to join, and sons, daughters, and siblings of aliens described in paragraph (1), paragraph (2), or section 1244(b)(1); and(4) Iraqis who are members of a religious or minority community, have been identified by the Secretary of State, or the designee of the Secretary, as a persecuted group, and have close family members . . . in the United States.”
1,000 Refugees who are nationals or habitual residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.
5,000 Other refugees in the following groups: those referred to the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) by a United States Embassy in any location; those who will be admitted through a Form I-730 following-to-join petition or who gain access to the USRAP for family reunification through the P-3 process; those currently located in Australia, Nauru, or Papua New Guinea who gain access to the USRAP pursuant to an arrangement between the United States and Australia; those who are nationals or habitual residents of Hong Kong, Venezuela, or Cuba; and those in the USRAP who were in “Ready for Departure” status as of September 30, 2019.
15,000 TOTAL

In addition, the President authorized the Secretary of State, subject to certain conditions, “to transfer unused admissions from a particular allocation above to one or more other allocations, if there is a need for greater admissions for the allocation to which the admissions will be transferred.”

The President, subject to certain conditions, also authorized the Secretary of State to consider “the following persons . . ., if otherwise qualified, . . . [as] refugees for the purpose of admission to the United States within their countries of nationality or habitual residence: a. persons in Cuba; b. persons in Eurasia and the Baltics; c. persons in Iraq; d. persons in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador; and e. in exceptional circumstances, persons identified by a United States Embassy in any location.”

The President specified “that persons from certain high-risk areas of terrorist presence or control, including Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, shall not be admitted as refugees, except those refugees of special humanitarian concern:  (1) who have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion; (2) were referred to the USRAP by a United States Embassy in any location; or (3) who will be admitted through a Form I-730 following-to-join petition or who gain access to the USRAP for family reunification through the P‑3 process.  The threat to United States national security and public safety posed by the admission of refugees from high-risk areas of terrorist presence or control is significant and cannot be fully mitigated at this time.”

Another specification by the President was “ for FY 2021, newly admitted refugees should be placed, to the maximum extent possible, in States and localities that have clearly expressed their willingness to receive refugees under the Department of State’s Reception and Placement Program.  Such cooperation ensures that refugees are resettled in communities that are eager and equipped to support their successful integration into American society and the labor force.”

Finally the President determined “hat assistance to or on behalf of persons applying for admission to the United States as part of the overseas refugee admissions program will contribute to the foreign policy interests of the United States, and I accordingly designate such persons for this purpose.”

Conclusion

 The principal objection to this presidential action is the overall limitation of resettled refugees to 15,000 in one year. The identification of the refugees in the above categories and their allocated numbers presumably are justified.

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

[1] U.S. Reduces Refugee Admissions to 15,000 for Fiscal 2021, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 2, 2020).

[2] White House, Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 (Oct. 28, 2020).

 

New U.S. Sanctions Against Cuba

The U.S. recently has announced additional sanctions against Cuba. Here is a summary of those measures.

 U.S.Sanctions Against Certain Cuban Hotels, Cigars and Alcohol[1]

On September 23 President Trump announced that the “Treasury Department will prohibit U.S. travelers from staying at properties owned by the Cuban government. We’re also further restricting the importation of Cuban alcohol and Cuban tobacco. These actions will ensure that U.S. dollars do not fund the Cuban regime and go directly to the Cuban people.”

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said, “The Cuban regime has been redirecting revenue from authorized U.S. travel for its own benefit, often at the expense of the Cuban people. This Administration is committed to denying Cuba’s oppressive regime access to revenues used to fund their malign activities, both at home and abroad.”

A negative assessment of this move was made by Lawrence Ward, a partner in the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, who said Trump’s action will make it nearly impossible for Americans to visit Cuba since the government owns or controls nearly all hotels. “Certainly, these new sanctions will have some minor impact on the Cuban government and Cuba’s economy but there’s a fair argument that the actions are more symbolic and political given that the United States stands nearly alone in its sanctions as to Cuba.”

Enrique Gutierrez, a spokesman for the Democratic Party said in an email, “This is a desperate and hypocritical attempt by Trump to pander to Cuban-American voters in Florida. American citizens are already banned from traveling to Cuba because of the coronavirus.” Mr. Trump was “using our foreign policy for his own political gain.”

U.S. Sanctions Against Cuban Debit Cards[2]

On September 28, the State Department added American International Services (AIS), a financial institution, to the Cuba Restricted List. According to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, the stated reason for this action was AIS’ allegedly being “controlled by the Cuban military that processes remittances sent to the Cuban people” and its charging “fees and manipulat[ing] the remittance and foreign currency market as part of the regime’s schemes to make money and support its repressive apparatus. The profits earned from these operations disproportionately benefit the Cuban military, furthering repression of the Cuban people and funding Cuba’s meddling in Venezuela.”

The Secretary added, “Adding AIS to the Cuba Restricted List furthers the Administration’s goal of preventing the Cuban military from controlling and benefiting from the flow of remittances that should instead benefit the Cuban people.  The people should be able to receive funds from their family abroad without having to line the pockets of their oppressors.” Therefore, the Secretary urged “anyone who sends remittances to family in Cuba to use means other than Cuban government-controlled remittance entities.”

This move against AIS hurts ordinary Cubans who receive remittances in hard currencies from families in the U.S. and elsewhere through AIS that are used to buy food in government-owned retail grocery stores. Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, said in a tweet, “it is a maneuver aimed at damaging the Cuban people and the family ties between both nations.”

List of Cuba Prohibited Accommodations and Entities [3]

In addition, on September 28, the Department published its initial list of Cuba Prohibited Accommodations. This is a “list of properties in Cuba owned or controlled by the Cuban government, a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.337, a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.338, a close relative, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.339, of a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, or a close relative of a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party.” The list is by cities and towns that not in alphabetical order so it should be carefully examined by any U.S. citizen traveling to Cuba.

On September 29, the Department published the List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated with Cuba. This is a “list of entities and subentities under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit such services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.” U.S. nationals are prohibited from having “direct financial transactions with these entities.”

Another Cuban “Blocked Person”[4]

On September 30 the Department added Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja to the U.S. list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons, which will block all transactions with “all assets, property and interests of property of Mr. Lopez-Calleja that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction, including within the possession or control of U.S. persons.”   The stated reason for this action was his being the head of the Cuban military-owned conglomerate Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA), which allegedly uses its revenue “to oppress the Cuban people and to fund Cuba’s parasitic, colonial domination of Venezuela.  He also is the son-in-law of Raul Castro.

Other Reactions [5]

 These new sanctions might seem inconsequential to someone in the U.S. But they are especially mean-spirited when directed at the much smaller and weaker island whose economy is suffering from the total collapse of foreign tourism and mismanagement and whose food is sold at high prices in government-operated stores only for U.S. Dollars as a way for the government to obtain Dollars it needs for other purposes.

Elijah Love, a commentator in the private Diario de Cuba and generally supportive of U.S. restrictions on Cuba, says, “Unfortunately, private entrepreneurs have been especially harmed, and although the US government wants the sanctions applied to military companies and State Security to leave room for private entrepreneurs to occupy the place they deserve, it does not seem that this be the case.”

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

[1] White House, Remarks by President Trump Honoring Bay of Pigs Veterans (Sept. 23, 2020); Treasury Dep’t, Office of Foreign Asset Control, Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 85 Fed. Reg. 60068-72 (Sept. 24, 3030)(new prohibition on lodging and related transactions at certain Cuban properties; restrictions on U.S. imports of Cuban alcohol and tobacco products; ends authorization of attendance or organization of professional meetings in Cuba and participation or organization of certain public performances , clinics , workshops in Cuba); Yeginsu, Trump Administration Adds to US Travel Restrictions in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2020); Superville, Trump tightens Cuba sanctions as he woos Cuban-American vote, Wash. Post (Sept. 23, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, Addition to the Cuba Restricted List (Sept. 28. 2020); Rodriguez, U.S. adds popular Cuban debit card to restricted list, Wash. Post (Sept. 28, 2020).

[3]  State Dep’t, Cuba Prohibited Accommodations List Initial Publication (Sept. 28, 2020);  State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated with Cuba Effective September 29, 2020 (Sept. 29, 2020)

[4] State Dep’t, Press Statement (Secretary Michael Pompeo): Addition to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (Sept. 30, 2020);Lee, US imposes sanctions on Cuba’s Raul Castro’s son-in-law, Wash. Post (Sept. 30, 2020)

[5]  Augustin & Robles, Cuba’s Economy Was Hurting. The Pandemic Brought a Food Crisis, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2020); Love, US sanctions on the Cuban economy create opportunities, but also risks, Diario de Cuba (Sept.  29, 2020).

 

Secretary Pompeo Foments Conflict with the Holy See

On September 30, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was at the Holy See for its Symposium on Advancing and Defending Religious Freedom through Diplomacy. There he delivered a speech entitled “Moral Witness and Religious Freedom” that provided great details about China’s abuses of religious freedom and called upon the Vatican (Pope Francis) to take action against the Chinese abuses. He thereby fomented conflict with the Holy See.

Pompeo’s Recent Speech [1]

Most of the first part of this speech appropriately concentrated on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe and the courageous resistance to the Nazi’s persecution of its Jewish citizens by Roman Catholic Father Bernhard Lichtenberg in  Berlin by his helping Jews with finances, advice and emigration assistance and by publicly  criticizing the Nazi regime after Kristallnacht.

“That life or death struggle [against the Nazis] was a crucible, a proving ground of moral witness.  Individual stories of valor were legion.  But I remember especially Father Bernhard Lichtenberg. . . .[He] was a priest in Berlin in the 1930s, who fervently resisted the Nazi regime, and helped Jews with finances, advice, emigration assistance as the Nazi fist tightened. In 1938, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, he began to speak up more loudly on their behalf, proclaiming at St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin, ‘Outside ‘the synagogue is burning, and that too, is a house of God.’ From then on, he fearlessly prayed each day publicly for the Jews and other victims of Nazi brutality.”

“Eventually, the Nazis arrested him in 1941. Rejecting a deal to go free in exchange [for] stopping his subversive peaching, he was given a two-year prison sentence.  When asked if he had anything to add when the sentence was read, he said, ‘I submit that no harm results to the state by citizens who pray for the Jews.’ Towards the end of his sentence, the Nazis realized they could never break his spirit.  They ordered him sent to Dachau concentration camp, but he died on the way before he reached that grim destination. Father Lichtenberg bore an incredible moral witness, and in 2004 he was honored by the State of Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a non-Jew who risked his life to save Jews from Nazis.”

“Today, as we think about that man, I urge all faith leaders to exhibit a similarly moral, bold witness for the sake of religious freedom, for human dignity, and for peace.(Emphasis added.)

Secretary Pompeo then shifted his remarks to say “the mission of defending human dignity – and religious freedom in particular – remains at the core of American foreign policy. That’s because it’s at the heart of the American experiment.  Our founders regarded religious freedom as an absolutely essential right of mankind and central to our founding.”

“Indeed, I would say it’s an integral part to what Pope John Paul II described as the ‘universal longing for freedom’ at the United Nations when he spoke in 1995.  Billions of people today . . . have always seeked to worship according to their conscience.”

But sadly, authoritarian regimes, terrorists, and even secularists, free societies are – in their different ways – trampling religious freedom all around the world. Vast swathes of humanity live in countries where religious freedom is restricted, from places like . . . Cuba, and beyond.” (Emphasis added.) Later in the speech he reiterated this contention: “Christian leaders have an obligation to speak up for their brothers and sisters in Iraq, in North Korea, and in Cuba.” (Emphasis added.)[2]

Then he went into his excoriation of China.

“Nowhere, however – nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than it is inside of China today. That’s because, as with all communist regimes, the Chinese Communist Party deems itself the ultimate moral authority. An increasingly repressive CCP, frightened by its own lack of democratic legitimacy, works day and night to snuff out the lamp of freedom, especially religious freedom, on a horrifying scale.”

The Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang are “not the only victims.  The Chinese Communist Party has battered every religious community in China: Protestant house churches, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and more.”

“Nor, of course, have Catholics been spared this wave of repression: Catholic churches and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed. Catholic bishops like Augustine Cui Tai have been imprisoned, as have priests in Italy. And Catholic lay leaders in the human rights movement, not least in Hong Kong, have been arrested. Authorities order residents to replace pictures of Jesus with those of Chairman Mao and those of General Secretary Xi Jinping.”

“All of these believers are the heirs of those Pope John Paul celebrated in his speech to the UN, those who had ‘taken the risk of freedom, asking to be given a place in social, political, and economic life which is commensurate with their dignity as free human beings.’”

“We must support those demanding freedoms in our time, like Father Lichtenberg did.”

For the Church, “Earthly considerations shouldn’t discourage principled stances based on eternal truths.  And as history shows, Catholics have often deployed their principles in glorious, glorious service of human dignity.” These include Jacques Maritain,  the bishops of Poland and West Germany in the 1960s,  the bishops of Poland and West Germany, Pope John Paul II, who was unafraid, and Pope Emeritus Benedict. “And just like Pope Benedict, Pope Francis has spoken eloquently about the ‘human ecology’ essential to decent societies.” (Emphasis added.)

“Pope Francis has exhorted the Church to be ‘permanently in a state of mission.’  It’s a hope that resonates with this evangelical Protestant who believes, as the Holy Father does, that those of us given the gift of Christian faith have an obligation to do our best to bless others.” (Emphasis added.)

To be a Church ‘permanently in a state of mission’ has many meanings.  Surely, one of them is to be a Church permanently in defense of basic human rights. A Church permanently in opposition to tyrannical regimes. A Church permanently engaged in support of those who wish to take ‘the risk of freedom’ of which Pope John Paul II spoke, especially, most especially where religious freedom is denied, or limited, or even crushed.” (Emphasis added.)

“As Christians, we all know we live in a fallen world.  That means that those who have responsibility for the common good must sometimes deal with wicked men and indeed with wicked regimes.  But in doing so – in doing so, statesmen representing democracies must never lose sight of the moral truths and human dignity that make democracy itself possible.” (Emphasis added.)

So also should religious leaders.  Religious leaders should understand that being salt and light must often mean exercising a bold moral witness. And this call to witness extends to all faiths, not just to Christians and Catholics.  It’s for leaders of all faiths at – indeed, at every level.” (Emphasis added.)

I call on every faith leader to find the courage to confront religious persecution against their own communities, as well as Father Lichtenberg did against members of other faiths as well.” (Emphasis added.)

“Every man and woman of faith is called to exercise a moral witness against the persecution of believers.  Indeed – we’re here today to talk about religious freedom – the very future of religious freedom depends upon these acts of moral witness.”

Pope John Paul II bore witness to his flock’s suffering, and he challenged tyranny.  By doing so, he demonstrated how the Holy See can move our world in a more humane direction, like almost no other institution.” (Emphasis added.)

May the Church, and all those who know that we are ultimately accountable to God, be so bold in our time.  May we all be so bold in our time.” (Emphasis added.)

Pompeo’s Preceding Comments [3]

Just twelve days before his recent trip to the Holy See, Pompeo published an article in First Things, “a conservative Christian magazine that has called [Pope} Francis a failure as Pope.” https://www.firstthings.com/about

Entitled “China’s Catholics and the Church’s Moral Leadership,” Pompeo’s article vigorously attacked the 2018 agreement between the Holy See and China that recognized the validity of Chinese appointment of some of the Catholic bishops in the country and the current Holy See-China negotiations about renewal of that agreement. (Emphasis added.)

The next day, Pompeo issued the following tweet: “Two years ago, the Holy See reached an agreement with the Chinese Communist Party, hoping to help China’s Catholics. Yet the CCP’s abuse of the faithful has only gotten worse. The Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal.” (Emphasis added.)

Reactions to Pompeo’s Comments and Speech [4]

These Pompeo words were seen by an “indignant Vatican . . . as a calculated affront.” As a result, the Vatican denied Pompeo a requested meeting with Pope Francis. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who, as secretary of state, is the Vatican’s second-ranking official, told reporters that the Pope had not granted the meeting because Francis had “clearly said that he does not receive political figures ahead of the elections.”

Moreover, Pompeo’s subsequent speech at the Holy See can be seen as an indirect challenge to Pope Francis by Pompeo’s talking about the Chinese abuses at great length and the courage of previous popes and Father Lichtenberg, by calling on “every faith leader to find the courage to confront religious persecution against their own communities,” by his using Pope Francis’ own challenge to the Church to be “permanently in a state of mission” as a way to say Francis is not doing that and by Pompeo’s saying, “May the Church, and all those who know that we are ultimately accountable to God, be so bold in our time.”  

In addition,  Pompeo met with “prelates and others who are hostile to Pope Francis.” As a result of these developments, many observers believe “Pompeo’s [recent] visit is as much about the coming [U.S.] presidential election as about China policy. Mr. Pompeo dismissed that suggestion as absurd, but intended or not, his trip signals that President Trump is on the side of those conservative American Catholics who worry about the church’s direction under Francis and think he is soft on China.”

The New York Times also reports that the event at the Vatican where Pompeo gave his speech on September 30 was organized by Callista Gingrich, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and who received warm words from Pompeo at the start of his speech while she sat in the front row with her husband Newt Gingrich, the Republican former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.”

“Mr. Gingrich said that Mr. Pompeo’s piece in First Things has stirred support and ‘probably’ motivated Catholic voters who read it to vote for President Trump. ‘The reaction to his op-ed the other day was very strong.’ Mr. Gingrich, who converted to Catholicism after his third marriage [to Calista] is a co-chair of Catholics for Trump [that] has attacked Mr. Biden over his ties to China and . . . supports Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Vatican ambassador to Washington, who has accused the pope of shielding child abusers and demanded that he step down.”

As he went to the podium for his Vatican speech, Pompeo “gave a pat on the shoulder to Cardinal Raymond Burke, a U.S. leader of the conservative opposition to Francis within the church hierarchy. Burke, who ruled out giving communion to John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign, said he believed American voters ‘more and more so’ cared about the issues Mr. Pompeo raised. And when it came to China, he said ‘I know I do.’” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Leo_Burke)

“Thomas Williams, the Breitbart bureau chief in Rome and a consistent critic of Francis who attended the event, argued that there was a clear electoral angle to the nominally diplomatic trip. He said that while he believed Mr. Pompeo genuinely hoped to change the Vatican’s stance on China, any political benefit back home was ‘a welcome and I’m sure sought after side effect.’”

Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University [and a supporter] of Francis, said these Pompeo actions are “an appeal to an electorate that is bigger than the Catholic vote, it’s also the evangelical vote. Being anti-pope helps with these Catholics but also evangelicals.”

“Alberto Melloni, the director of the Foundation for Religious Sciences John XXIII in Bologna, Italy, called Mr. Pompeo’s moves ‘a divisive operation targeted to the American electorate, not to the Holy See.’” Afterwards Pompeo, rejecting the suggestion that his speech was an attack on Pope Francis, said at a press conference, “I wrote that piece to honor the moral authority of the Catholic Church and its capacity to influence and make things better for people all across the world. They have historically stood with oppressed peoples all around the world. The piece was written and our policy has been all along to bring every actor who can benefit the people of China from — to take away the horrors of the authoritarian regime the Chinese Communist Party is inflicting on these people. That was our mission set, and it will remain our mission set. It’s been so long before the election; it will remain so after the election.”

This response was endorsed in a Wall Street Journal editorial with these words: “It is a welcome message from a U.S. Secretary of State, and the Vatican would do well to at least hear him out as it enters its latest negotiations with Beijing.”

All of this leaves this non-Catholic blogger from Minnesota bewildered. However, there should be more diplomatic ways to discuss and negotiate differences with the Holy See.

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

[1] State Dep’t, Michael Pompeo Speech, Moral Witness and Religious Freedom (Sept. 30, 2020).

[2] In his 2019 speech at the Holy See, Pompeo said, “Because when the state rules absolutely, God becomes an absolute threat to authority.  That’s why Cuba cancelled National Catholic Youth Day back in August [of 2019].”  This statement was erroneous and misleading as discussed in a prior post. (Secretary of State Pompeo Delivers Speech at the Holy See, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 4, 2019).)  https://dwkcommentaries.com/2019/10/04/secretary-of-state-pompeo-delivers-speech-at-the-holy-see

[3] Pompeo, China’s Catholics and the Church’s Moral Witness, First Things (Sept. 18, 2020), https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/09/chinas-catholics-and-the-churchs-moral-witness; Pompeo, Tweet (Sept. 19, 2020), https://twitter.com/secpompeo/status/1307366983890018311?s=21.

[4] Horowitz & Jakes, Rebuffed by Vatican, Pompeo Assails China and Aligns With Pope’s Critics, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/30/world/europe/pompeo-pope-francis-china.html; Winfield, Pompeo urges Vatican to condemn human rights abuses in China, Wash. Post (Sept. 30, 2020), https://www.wsj.com/articles/pompeo-and-the-pope-11601507813?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=2; Morelio, Harlan & Shih, Pompeo and Vatican officials face off over negotiations with China, Wash. Post (Sept. 30, 2020), https://www.wsj.com/articles/pompeo-and-the-pope-11601507813?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=2; Winfield, Pompeo, Vatican talk China after tensions spill out publicly, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/pompeo-meets-with-vatican-after-us-china-tensions-spill-over/2020/10/01/1d9b1c16-03d4-11eb-b92e-029676f9ebec_story.html.

 

U.S. Reduces Refugee Admissions to 15,000 for Fiscal 2021

On September 30, 2020, the U.S. State Department announced that President Trump will be submitting to Congress a report that he has determined that the U.S. will reduce its refugee admissions for Fiscal 2021 (October 1, 2020—September 30, 2021) to 15,000. [1]

It must be understood that the individuals who will be admitted to the U.S. under this quota already have been vetted and determined by a U.N. agency to have met the international and U.S. legal definition of “refugee:” someone who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”[2]

The State Department attempted to reduce the adverse humanitarian consequences of this reduction by claiming, “The United States is committed to achieving the best humanitarian outcomes while advancing our foreign policy interests.  Given the dire situation of nearly 80 million displaced people around the world, the mission of American diplomacy is more important than ever.”

Other points of this attempt to reduce the adverse consequences of this decision are the following:

  • “In line with the U.S. National Security Strategy, we are working to assist refugees and other displaced people as close to their homes as possible until they can safely and voluntarily return to rebuild their lives, their communities, and their countries.  As part of our longstanding leadership in international humanitarian crisis response, the United States provided more than $9 billion in humanitarian assistance in Fiscal Year 2019 and nearly $70 billion in humanitarian assistance over the past decade.”
  • “The President’s proposal for refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 2021 reflects the Administration’s continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  It accounts for the massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals – by prioritizing those who are already in the country seeking humanitarian protection.  It also accounts for the arrival of refugees whose resettlement in the United States was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • “Refugee resettlement is only one aspect of U.S. humanitarian-based immigration efforts.  Since 1980, America has welcomed almost 3.8 million refugees and asylees, and our country hosts hundreds of thousands more people under other humanitarian immigration categories.  This year’s proposed refugee resettlement program continues that legacy with specific allocations for people who have suffered or fear persecution on the basis of religion; for Iraqis whose assistance to the United States has put them in danger; for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; and for refugees from Hong Kong, Cuba, and Venezuela.” (Emphasis added.)

The State Department continued, The President’s proposal for refugee resettlement in Fiscal Year 2021 reflects the Administration’s continuing commitment to prioritize the safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  It accounts for the massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals – by prioritizing those who are already in the country seeking humanitarian protection.  It also accounts for the arrival of refugees whose resettlement in the United States was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” (Emphasis added.)

According to the State Department, the U.S. anticipates receiving 285,000 asylum requests in the upcoming fiscal year. Such applications must meet the previously mentioned international and U.S. definition of “refugee.” However, the Department’s statement admits the U.S. has a  “massive backlog in asylum cases – now more than 1.1 million individuals.”

After criticisms of this decision emerged from various groups that are discussed below, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo from Rome tried to defend this decision. He said, “We continue to be the single greatest contributor to the relief of humanitarian crisis all around the world, and we will continue to do so. Certainly so long as President Donald Trump is in office, I can promise you this administration is deeply committed to that.”

Reactions [3]

This establishment of a 15,000 quota for refugees is a 3,000 reduction from last year’s quota of 18,000, which was the lowest since the introduction of the U.S. refugee program in 1980. In contrast, in Fiscal 2017, the last full year of the Obama Administration, the quota was 85,000 while the Trump Administration’s first two years (Fiscal 2018 and 2019) set the quotas at 53,000 and 30,000.

This further reduction is seen as another point of President Trump’s “anti-immigrant themes in the closing month of his re-election campaign.” It was done as the President was “unleashing a xenophobic tirade against one of the nation’s most prominent refugees, Representative Ilhan Oma, on Wednesday night at a rally in her home state of Minnesota.”

According to a Washington Post columnist, Catherine Rampell, this presidential decision “in one fell swoop, . . .managed  to betray his country’s humanitarian interests, its national security interests, its economic interests and even his own narrow political interests to boot. . . . The only constituency helped by Trump’s latest cruelty are the bigots and knee-jerk nationalists crafting his policies. For the rest of us, it represents an incalculable loss.”

As anticipated, refugee advocacy groups condemned this decision.

  • Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, called the 15,000 cap an “abdication” of the nation’s humanitarian leadership role in the world. “This absurdly low number is based on nothing more than xenophobic political pandering, and it’s no surprise that this all-time low comes during an election year. We have shown as we have resettled thousands of refugees that there’s no evidence any of these arrivals have endangered Americans. Refugees come to this country after the most extreme vetting procedures, including medical-health checks.”
  • The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota’s Executive Director, Veena Iyer, said, “Slashing refugee numbers and refusing admission to desperate people whose lives are in danger, especially those whose lives are in danger because of their service to U.S. soldiers and peacekeepers, is appalling. Instead of leading the world in protecting the persecuted, the actions of this administration are an abdication of leadership.”
  • Oxfam America’s Isra Chaker said, “This inexcusable new admissions ceiling is a mere fraction of the number of refugees the United States can and should resettle in a year. During the final year of the previous administration, the U.S. safely and successfully resettled an average of 15,000 refugees every two months.”

The same reaction came from faith-based groups.

  • Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, a global Christian aid agency, said Trump has reneged on his promise to protect persecuted Christians in the world. “Instead, we’ve seen the resettlement of refugees from countries known for persecution drop about 90% in some cases over the last four years. This is unconscionable.”
  • Rev. John L. McCullough, head of the Church World Service, which helps resettle refugees in the United States, “described the shrinking of refugee admissions as immoral and urged Congress to . . . recommend changes or seek to influence the decision through budgeting, but is largely powerless to alter the determination. . . .Our values as a nation and as people of faith demand that we take action when people’s lives are in danger.”
  • “The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, denounced the chipping away of the refugee program as part of “the ongoing Trump administration effort to maintain systemic anti-Black racism and white supremacy.”
  • Isaiah, a Minnesota faith coalition stated, “We know that we are better off together and that all of us, no matter where we come from or how we pray, want our communities to thrive and our voices to be heard. Overcoming tremendous challenges, Somali Minnesotans bravely moved to Minnesota with their families and have helped make this state vibrant.”

Finally this Trump decision is impeached by recent praises of refugees for their contributions to the economy and culture of 29 states by their governors (both Democrat and Republican).

For example, Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz’s letter to Secretary Pompeo stated, ““Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge. Our state has always stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home. Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. They are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors.”

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

[1] State Dep’t, Transmission of the President’s Report to Congress on the Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2021 (Sept. 30, 2020). 

[2] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. 1 (A)(2),189 U.N.T.S. 150, entered into force April 22, 1954; Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Art. I(2), 606 U.N.T.S. 267, entered into force Oct. 4,, 1967; Refugee Act of 1980, 8 U.S.C. sec. 1101(a)(42), Refugee and Asylum Law: The Modern Era, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2010).

[3] U.S. Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S., dwkcommentareis.com (Nov. 4, 2019); Kanno-Youngs & Shear, Trump Virtually Cuts Off Refugees as He Unleashes a Tirade on Immigrants, N.Y. Times (Oct. 1, 2020); Rampell, Trump’s refugee ceiling is bad for everyone except bigots, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020);  Watson & Lee, Faith Groups decry Trump’s plans for record low refugee cap, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020); Miroff, Trump cuts off refugee cap to lowest level ever, depicts them on campaign trail as a threat and burden, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020);Smith, Trump administration again seeks to slash refugee numbers, StarTribune (Oct. 1, 2020); Rights groups appalled as Trump cuts US refugee admissions to record low, Guardian (Oct. 1, 2020); U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 2, 2020).