Secretary Pompeo Reiterates U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba

On or about November 16, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo reiterated U.S. hostility towards Cuba in an interview by Carlos Alberto Montaner, an exiled Cuban author now living in Spain. Here are the key points of that interview. [1]

“Cuba is a foreign policy priority for the Trump Administration. The President’s National Security Memorandum of June 2017, which established our policy to support the Cuban people, while holding the Cuban regime accountable both for its human rights abuses in the country and for its destabilizing interference in other parts of the region, . . . was only the beginning. Since then, we have imposed more sanctions on the Cuban regime, including the elimination of an authorization for ‘fraternization’ group trips, the impediment of US passenger and recreational vessels, such as cruise ships, yachts and private planes, to travel to Cuba, and finish the scheduled American air transport service to all Cuban airports except Havana.”

“We take these measures because the Cuban people do not benefit greatly from such exchanges, the regime does. All these actions are designed to prevent US dollars from filling the pockets of the Cuban military, the same people who repress the Cuban people in the country, support Maduro in Venezuela and are aligned with Putin in Russia.”

“Cuba’s interference in Venezuela and other countries in the region is totally unacceptable. Particularly appalling is the participation of the Cuban military and intelligence services that support the despot Maduro, in exchange for shipments of Venezuelan oil. This oil belongs to the Venezuelan people, who are suffering greatly under the economic, political and humanitarian crisis that created Maduro’s corruption and mismanagement.”

“Maduro’s use of oil to pay for the intrusion and abuse of Cuba is a large-scale robbery and is illegal under Venezuelan law.”

“We continue to look for new ways to limit this illegal exchange. The United States is currently focusing on the tools of diplomacy and sanctions to generate pressure in order to achieve a democratic transition in Venezuela. We have made more than 200 designations related to Venezuela since 2017, under the Law on the Designation of Foreign Drug Trafficking Chiefs (Kingpin Act) and several presidential orders. These actions prevent Maduro’s illegitimate regime from using the US financial system for its corrupt and socially destructive economic practices, and impose a cost on the regime for its illicit practices, human rights violations and corruption.”

“The Cuban regime has made it clear that it not only supports, but is responsible for the power abuses of the Maduro regime. The United States remains determined to actively support a peaceful transition to democracy, freedom and the rule of law in Venezuela. President Trump has said that all options are on the table in Venezuela, including the military option, but in the State Department we are currently focused on deploying all our diplomatic and economic options to support the interim president Guaidó and the National Assembly in a peaceful restoration of democracy, freedom and the rule of law.”

“Certainly, the Cuban presence can be felt throughout the region. Ecuador recently expressed concern that Cubans were interfering in its sovereign territory, and we have seen how the Cuban regime has historically interfered in Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela.”

Conclusion

Cuba, like every country in the world including the U.S., is legitimately subject to criticism on some of its actions and policies. But Cuba does not deserve this unceasing criticism from the U.S. Secretary of State.

Moreover, the Secretary fails to acknowledge that hostile policies and rhetoric by the much more powerful U.S. have forced Cuba to take certain actions to protect itself, like its increasing connections with Russia. The Secretary, who claims to be a Christian, should remember, and act in accordance with, these words from the Gospel of Matthew (7: 1-5 (NRSV):

  • “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s.”

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[1] Montaner, Pompeo: Washington seeks ‘new ways to limit illegal exchange’ between the regimes of Cuba and Venezuela, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 16, 2019).

 

 

U.S. Updates Its Cuba Restricted List   

On November 15 the U.S. State Department added five sub-entities to its Cuba Restricted List of entities and sub-entities which are owned by the Cuban military and with which direct transactions by U.S. nationals are prohibited.[1]

The five added to the List are the following hotels: the Grand Hotel Bristol Kempinski, located in Havana; the Grand Aston Varadero Resort, located in that seaside resort of Matanzas; the Grand Aston Cayo Las Brujas Beach Resort and Spa, located in Cayo Las Brujas; and the Grand Muthu Imperial Hotel and the Grand Muthu Imperial Hotel, both located in Cayo Guillermo.

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[1] State Dep’t, State Department Updates the Cuba restricted List (Nov. 15, 2019); State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba Effective as of November 15, 2019 (Nov. 15, 2019); US sanctions five new hotels of the Cuban military, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 16, 2019).

 

 

U.S. Denies Visas to Cuban Officials       

On November 14 Carlos Fernández de Cossío, the general director for the United States of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the U.S. has been delaying or denying visas for Cuban diplomats to join the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. This, he said, has resulted in damages to the functioning of that Embassy and may lead to Cuba doing the same thing with respect to U.S. diplomats for its Embassy in Havana. [1]

In addition, on November 16, the U.S. denied visas to the Cuban Interior Minister, Julio Cesar Gandarilla Bermejo, and his two children. The State Department stated, this was “due to his involvement, by command responsibility, in gross violations of human rights in Venezuela” and to “Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior . . Cuban Interior Minister. [being] responsible for arbitrarily arresting and detaining thousands of Cuban citizens and unlawfully incarcerating more than 100 political prisoners in Cuba.  Ministry officials have overseen the torture of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners, as well as the murder of some of these individuals by police and security forces.  Gandarilla Bermejo is complicit in arbitrarily or unlawfully surveilling these groups, whether they be citizens or visitors.” [2]

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[1] Fernández de Cossío: U.S. denies visas to Cuban diplomats and forces Cuba to “reciprocate,” Oncuba News (Nov. 14, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Public Designation of Julio Cesar Gandarilla Bermejo under Section 7031(c ) of the FY 2019 Department of State, Foreign Operations List (Nov. 16, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Slaps Travel Sanctions on Second Senior Cuban Official, N.Y. Times (Nov. 16, 2019); US bans entry to Cuban Interior Minister and his children, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 17, 2019).

 

Amnesty International Reiterates Demand for Release of Ferrer 

On November 12, Amnesty International reiterated its demand that Cuba release José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).[1]

Its release stated he “has been in detention for 40 days, since Oct 1, for reasons still unknown. As far as we can ascertain, he has not been informed of the charges against him or brought before a judge. In addition, recent alarming reports suggest he may have been tortured or ill-treated while in detention, something Amnesty International has not been able to independently verify in a context where lawyers and the judiciary are largely controlled by the Executive. Mass mobilization is needed to ensure that the Cuban government presents charges against him or release him, and refrains from potentially taking actions that may amount to ill-treatment against him.”

This blog has reported Ferrer’s recent arrest and detention and subsequent developments.[2]

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[1] Amnesty International, Cuba: Opposition Leader at Risk of Torture: José Daniel Ferrer Garcia (Nov. 12, 2019); Amnesty International launches another urgent action for ‘risk of torture’ by José Daniel Ferrer, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 13, 2019).

[2]  U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Cuba and Denounces Cuba’s Detention of Dissident, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 19, 2019). In addition, these comments have been added to that post: Cuban Court Denies Habeas Corpus for Ferrer (Oct. 21, 2019); Ferrer’s Family Released from Detention (Oct. 26, 2019); More Pressure for Release of Ferrer (Oct. 31, 2019); Cuban Attorneys Say Cuban Regime Frequently Forcibly Disappears Its Citizens (Nov. 2, 2019); No Cuban Government Report on Status of Ferrer (Nov. 2, 2019); Washington Post Editorial Calls for Cuba To Release Ferrer (Nov. 9, 2019); Cuba Allegedly Using Venezuelan Torture Technique on Ferrer (Nov. 11. 2019).

U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns U.S. Embargo of Cuba

On November 6 and 7, 2019, the U.N. General Assembly debated and adopted Cuba’s annual resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba, 187 to 3 (U.S., Brazil, Israel) with two abstentions (Columbia and Ukraine).[1]

Secretary-General’s Report [2]

Prior to the debate, the U.N. Secretary-General submitted a 167-page Report containing replies from 158 Governments, 33  U.N. organs and agencies and 1 observer.

Cuba’s 36-page Reply, dated July 16, 2019, covering the period April 2018 to March 2019, had the following sections: I. Continuity and tightening of the embargo policy. II. The embargo violates the rights of the Cuban people. III, Impact on the external sector of the Cuban economy. IV. The embargo violates international law. Extraterritorial application. V. Universal rejection of the embargo. Conclusions.

The Resolution [3]

The operative portions of the Resolution stated the following:

  • “2. Reiterates its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the preamble to the present resolution, in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation;”
  • “3. Once again urges States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

 The Debate Over the Resolution[4]

“Through the terms of the text, the Assembly reiterated its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the text’s preamble, in conformity with their obligations under international law and the Charter of the United Nations, which reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation.  The Assembly also urged States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla, said that in the last few months, President Donald Trump’s Administration has begun escalating its aggression against Cuba through non‑conventional measures to prevent the arrival of fuel shipments to the island country through sanctions and threats against vessels as well as shipping and insurance companies.”

The Cuba Foreign Minister added that in April “the United States announced it would allow lawsuits to be filed before United States courts against Cuban and foreign entities under Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 (Helms‑Burton Act). The blockade has caused incalculable humanitarian damages and qualifies as an act of genocide under 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

“For almost six decades, Cuba has been victim to the most unjust, severe and longest‑lasting system of sanctions ever applied against any country,” Mr. Rodriquez said, noting that the accumulated damages as a result of the blockade amount to more than $138.8 billion at current value.”

“The persecution of Cuba’s banking relations with the rest of the world continues,” Rodriguez said. “Remittances sent to Cuban citizens have been further restricted and the granting of visas further reduced.  The United States Government is set on sabotaging Cuba’s international cooperation in healthcare as well.  Cubans have no access to Government or private credit and are required to pay in cash for merchandise upon its arrival in port.”

Also speaking in favor of the Cuba resolution were representatives of 40 U.N. members.

Opposition, or course, came from the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, who said that the U.S. has a sovereign right to choose which countries with which to trade.  ‘So it is worrying that the international community, in the name of protecting sovereignty, continues to challenge this right,” she said.  “The Assembly continues to entertain the claim, made explicitly and implicitly during the last 24 hours, that the Cuban regime has no other choice than to abuse its own people in response to the embargo.”

Ambassador Craft added, “the Cuban Government has arbitrarily arrested more than 50,000 human rights activists, journalists and others since 2010, she said.  That Government also deprives people of their right to free choice of employment, as well as freedom of opinion and expression.  In Cuba, all political parties besides the Communist Party are outlawed, political activists are silenced, and the country’s media is entirely controlled by the State.  All of these are choices that are not forced upon them by the United States embargo.  The country is also an active contributor to regional instability, collaborating with the former Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

Conclusion [5]

As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am not pleased with the U.S. opposition to this resolution.

Moreover, too many in the U.S. believe the Cuban damages claim from the embargo is just a crazy Cuban dream, but I disagree. Given the amount of the claim, Cuba will not someday tell the U.S. to forget it, nor will the U.S. write a check for Cuba in that amount. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this claim and any other damage claims by both countries for resolution by an independent international arbitration panel such as those provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands. As a retired attorney who litigated cases involving large alleged damages, I know that attorneys representing the U.S. with the aid of expert accounting witnesses would mount challenging cross-examination of Cuba witnesses and present direct evidence to prove any errors in Cuba’s calculations and assumptions.

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[1] Reuters, Exclusive: Brazil Likely to Vote With U.S. Against Cuba at U.N. Over Embargo (Nov. 6, 2019); U.N., Speakers in General Assembly Urge United States to Repeal Embargo Against Cuba, Criticizing Trump Administration for Intensifying Restrictions over Last Year (Nov, 6, 2019); LIVE: Cuba presents proposed UN resolution condemning U.S. blockade (I), Granma (Nov. 6, 2019); Minute by Minute: UN vote against the US blockade of Cuba, Cubadebate (Nov. 7, 2019); U.N., General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling on United States to End Embargo against Cuba, Brazil Rejects Text for First Time (Nov. 7, 2019Assoc. Press, UN Votes Overwhelmingly to Condemn US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 7, 2019); LIVE: 187 votes in favor of Cuba leave the United States looking bad before the world, Granma (Nov. 7, 2019); U.N., General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling on United States to End Embargo against Cuba, Brazil Rejects Text for First Time (Nov. 7, 2019); Assoc. Press, UN Votes Overwhelmingly to Condemn US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 7, 2019); Victory against the UN blockade, triumph of good over evil, Cubadebate (Nov. 8, 2019).

[2]  U.N. General Assembly, Report of the Secretary-General: Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Aug. 19, 2019). There were no statements from the U.S., Brazil, Israel and Ukraine while Colombia stated that “in accordance with the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, [it] reiterates that it has neither promulgated nor applied any unilateral laws or measures against Cuba, in keeping with its policy of respect for international law and its commitment to the principles of political independence, self-determination of peoples and non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations. Consequently, Colombia promotes the independent development of the internal policies of every nation and believes that any measure that undermines economic and commercial development and the well-being of the population should cease.”

[3] U.N. General Assembly, Draft Resolution: Necessity of ending the ecdonomic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Oct. 8, 2019).

[4] Bruno Rodriguez: ‘There is no Cuban family that does not suffer the consequences of the blockade (+ Video), Cubadebate (Nov. 7, 20MINREX, Rodriguez  Speech at U.N. (Nov. 6, 2019); U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks at a U.N. General Assembly Meeting on the Cuba Embargo Resolution (Nov. 7, 2019); U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks at a U.N. General Assembly Press Stakeout Following Vote on the Cuba Embargo Resolution (Nov. 7, 2019).

[5] This blog has commented on previous Cuba embargo resolutions at the U.N. General Assembly, proposed U.S. legislation to end the embargo and related subjects. See the posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

No Mention of Cuba in New U.S. Report on Terrorism

On November 1, 2019, the U.S. State Department released its latest annual report on terrorism in the world, this for calendar 2018.  It had no mention of Cuba. [1]

For the calendar years, 1981-2014, such reports listed Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” But the report for 2014 also stated, “on April 14, 2015, President Obama submitted to Congress the statutorily required report and certifications indicating the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, including the certification that Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the previous six-months; and that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future. The required 45-day Congressional pre-notification period expired, and the Secretary of State made the final decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, effective on May 29, 2015.” [2]

Thereafter in the annual reports for 2015, 2016, 2017 and now 2018, Cuba was eliminated from this category. Moreover, for 2016, 2017 and now 2018 there was no mention of Cuba at all. [3]

At the press briefing on the report for 2016, a  journalist asked whether then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson himself had made the decision not to put Cuba back on the list of state sponsors since at his Senate confirmation hearing he had testified that he “wanted to examine the criteria under which Cuba was removed from the list” for the year 2014. [4]

At that briefing, a  State Department official responded: “Cuba was removed, and there is no requirement within the report for an individual chapter on every single country around the world. We produce chapters in the Country Reports based upon material, frankly, to include in the report. So it was assessed that there was not sufficient information there to provide a report this year on Cuba, but it was removed from the state sponsor list previously.”

The continued non-inclusion of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in this latest report, in this blogger’s opinion, is the proper conclusion and perhaps a sign that the Trump Administration’s rhetoric about Cuba is louder and stronger than its bite. This also is good news in light of calls by some this year for re-designating Cuba as such a “sponsor.”[5]

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[1] State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2018 (Nov. 1, 2019)

[2] State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2014

[3] State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2015 (June 2, 2016); U.S. State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 (July 19, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Release: State Department Releases Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 (July 19, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Briefing: Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism Justin Siberell on the Release of Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 (July 19, 2017); State Dep’t, Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 (Sept. 19, 2018).

[4] Welsh, State Department drops Cuba entirely from annual detail of terrorist activity, McClatchy (July 19, 2017); No Mention of Cuba in U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Terrorism, dwkcommentareis.com (July 22, 2017).

[5]  U.S. Considering Re-Designating Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 26, 2019);Congressmen Reiterate Call for Re-Designation of Cuba as “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 21, 2019).

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U.S.  Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S.

On November 1, President Trump set 18,000 as the quota for refugee admissions into the U.S. for Fiscal 2020 (October 1, 2019—September 30, 2020).[1] These admissions shall be allocated among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States in accordance with the following allocations:

Number Category
5,000 Refugees who:have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion
4,000 Iraqi refugees
1,500 Refugees who are nationals or habitual residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras:
7,500 Other refugees
18,000 TOTAL

The President also specified that for Fiscal Year 2020, the following persons may, if otherwise qualified, be considered 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.

Moreover, President Trump added another potential barrier to refugee entrants with an executive order requiring state and local governments to provide written consent to refugee resettlements.

Reactions [2]

This quota is the lowest since the introduction of the U.S. refugee program in 1980. 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.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said, “At a time of record forced displacement in the world, lower admissions constrain UNHCR’s ability to deliver on its refugee protection mandate and diminish our humanitarian negotiating power at the global level. As the agency mandated by the UN General Assembly to lead and coordinate the international response to refugees, UNHCR is naturally troubled by this trend in the United States and elsewhere.”

Similar negative reactions came from international non-governmental organizations concerned with refugees.

The International Rescue Committee said the U.S. decision broke with 40 years or precedent. “This measure completely ignores the welcome that communities have provided to refugees, as well as the important contributions resettled refugees have made to these communities all across the country,” Jennifer Sime, its senior vice president, said.

Church World Service, a resettlement agency, said through Its president, Rev. John L. Mccullough,  “With one final blow, the Trump administration has snuffed out Lady Liberty’s torch and ended our nation’s legacy of compassion and welcome.”

Betsy Fisher, the director of strategy for the International Refugee Assistance Project, said,“The shockingly low refugee admissions goal and the executive order will all but ensure that people in need of safety will be left in dangerous conditions and separated from their families. These policies will prevent refugees from being resettled, even though communities across the nation stand ready to welcome them.”

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[1] White House, Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2020 (Nov. 1, 2019); State Dep’t, Presidential  Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 2, 2019); Assoc. Press, Trump Approves Plan to Cap Refugees at 18,000 in 2020, N.Y. Times (Nov. 2, 2019); Shear & Kanno-Youngs, Trump Slashes Refugee Cap to 18,000, Curtailing U.S. Role as Haven, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2019).

[2] UNHCR, UNHCR troubled by latest U.S. refugee resettlement cut, UNHCR (Nov. 2, 2019); Reuters, UN ‘troubled’ by Donald Trump’s cut to refugee numbers, Newshub (Nov. 3, 2019).