Change of charge d’affaires of U.S. Embassy in Cuba 

On August 1, there was a change of the charge d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Leaving that position was Mara Tekach,  a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. Her successor is Timothy Zuñiga-Brown, another career foreign service officer, who will have to deal with a reduced embassy staff and unsolved issues, such as the suspension of visa processing and the family reunification program. [1]

Here is an account of some of Tekach’s recent comments.[2]

On her last day in this position, she delivered to the Cuban government a diplomatic note complaining about the state of human rights on the island. She said Cuba did not deserve a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland; instead it deserved censuring by that body. (On August 5, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made the same plea, saying, “It’s outrageous that the Human Rights Council would offer to seat Cuba, a brutal dictatorship that traffic its own doctors under the guise of humanitarian missions. No country should vote Cuba onto the Council.”[3])

“While its leaders enjoy expensive yachts and watches, the Cuban people queue for hours to try to get food and medicine. Any country in the world can send supplies to the island, but they never reach the people,”

“The regime needs to democratize,” Tekach said. It is “fomenting destabilization abroad” and has established a “parasitic relationship built around all kinds of nefarious arrangements” with the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela. “These things have to end.”

During her time in Havana, she was a vocal critic of the Cuban government. She visited political prisoners and dissidents and met with activists around the island. Tekach said “it was important to raise awareness on the island of the repression. And I was very focused on bringing this to the attention of the international community.” I was convinced “that the regime would not tolerate a single free thought among its people.”

Under her leadership, the embassy’s social media accounts engaged in campaigns to criticize the Cuban government’s medical missions and the country’s human-rights record. The government responded by showing on television images of her meeting with dissidents and accusing her of “recruiting mercenaries.”

For example, on July 4, 2020, she gave a speech at the Embassy dedicated to “all of the independent voices of Cuba – past and present. . . . May they never be silenced. May they continue to be heard. . . . Cuba’s countless independent voices dream and strive for a better future. You shall not be forgotten.  We will continue to amplify your voices.”

And on July 21, 2020, she issued a statement on the Embassy’s website about Cuban medical missions that focused on the claims that the Cuban medical personnel are not paid fair compensation for their services on these missions. [2]

Tekach said the disagreements never stopped her from communicating with Cuban officials and working on issues like the repatriation flights organized after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted travel. But she noted that “it was not a friendly relationship.”

Tekach will remain influential in Cuban policy as the new coordinator of the State Department’s Office of Cuban Affairs.

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[1] Torres, ‘It wasn’t a friendly relationship.’ Former top diplomat in Havana talks about U.S.-Cuba relations, Miami Herald (Aug. 5, 2020); ‘Do not be fooled by the Cuban regime,’ asks Mara Tekach when leaving office, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 7, 2020).

[2] U.S. Embassy (Cuba), Remarks by U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Mara Tekach (July 4, 2020); U.S. Embassy (Cuba), Statement from Chargé d’Affaires Mara Tekach The Truth about Cuban Medical Missions (July 21, 2020).

[3] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo At a Press Availability (Aug. 5, 2020); Washington urges UN countries to deny Havana a seat on the Human rights Council, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 6, 2020).

 

Cuba Eliminates List of Permissible Activities for Private Sector 

On August 7, Cuba’s Minister of Labor and Social Security, Maria Elena Feitō Cabrera, announced that the government was eliminating the list of permissible activates for the island’s private sector because “it does not promote the development of natural creativity that the Cuban has.”[1]

A private entity will still have to submit a proposed activity to this Ministry, but the proposed activity will only have to be legal with resources and raw materials of legal origin. The Minister added that the government procedures for such applications still need to be simplified.

She added that this change was prompted by “positive experiences” with confronting the Covid-19 crisis. The move also is seen as an attempt to address the island’s current economic crisis after the recent opening of a wholesale outlet to private eateries and the authorization for private businesses to import and export (via state companies).

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[1] The Government will eliminate the list of activities allowed for the private sector in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 7, 2020); Reuters, Cuba to Scrap ‘Too Restrictive’ Private-sector Activities List as Economic Pressures Grow, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2020); Assoc. Press, Economy Tanking, Cuba Launches Some Long-Delayed Reforms, N.Y. Times (Aug. 6, 2020).

 

 

Secretary Pompeo’s Reactions to U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights’ Report     

On July 16, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo gave an immediate response [1] to the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights that was summarized in a prior post.  Now we look at some of the significant points of Pompeo’s response.

Pompeo’s Introduction by Chair Glendon’s 

Chair Mary Ann Glendon said that the importance of the Commission’s work has been highlighted by several recent developments. First, Freedom House recently reported that “political and civil rights worldwide have declined this year for the 14th consecutive year and that half the world’s population – 4 billion people – currently live under autocratic or quasi-authoritarian regimes.”[3] Second, “some powerful countries are now openly challenging the basic premises of the great post-World War II human rights project, and by challenging the premises, they are undermining the already fragile international consensus behind the ideas that no nation should be immune from outside scrutiny of how it treats its own citizens and that every human being is entitled to certain fundamental rights simply by virtue of being human.” Third, “Another set of threats to human freedom and dignity are emerging in technological advances – artificial intelligence, biotechnology, data collection, sophisticated surveillance techniques.” Fourth, “millions of women and men are suffering arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and those women and men are looking to the United States as a beacon of hope and encouragement.”

Pompeo’s Speech

“These . . . unalienable rights . . . are a foundation upon which this country was built. They are central to who we are and to what we care about as Americans.”

“America’s founders didn’t invent the ‘unalienable rights,’ but stated very clearly in the Declaration of Independence that they are held as ‘self-evident’ that human beings were ‘created equal’  and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights… among [those] are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.’”

The report emphasizes foremost among these rights are property rights and religious liberty. No one can enjoy the pursuit of happiness if you cannot own the fruits of your own labor, and no society – no society can retain its legitimacy or a virtuous character without religious freedom.” (Emphasis added.)

“Our founders knew that faith was also essential to nurture the private virtue of our citizens.”

George Washington, in “his now famous letter from 1790, . . .  to the Jews of Newport,. . .  proudly noted that the United States ‘gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.’” But “our founders also knew the fallen nature of mankind. [As] Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 10: ‘Men are ambitious, vindictive, rapacious.’ So in their wisdom, they established a system that acknowledged our human failings, checked our worst instincts, and ensured that government wouldn’t trample on these unalienable rights.”

“Limited government structured into our documents protects these rights. As the [Commission] report states, ‘majorities are inclined to impair individual freedom, and public officials are prone to putting their private preferences and partisan ambitions ahead of the public interest.’”

In 1838, Abraham Lincoln, then a 28-year-old lawyer, gave a moving speech to the local young man’s lyceum in Springfield, Illinois, when he said, ‘We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us.’

“This is still true of America today. America is fundamentally good and has much to offer the world, because our founders recognized the existence of God-given, unalienable rights and designed a durable system to protect them.”

“The . . . societal upheavals that are currently roiling our nation . . .directly ties to our ability to put our founding principles at the core of what we do as Americans and as diplomats all across the world.”

[We must admit, however,] “that at our nation’s founding our country fell far short of securing the rights of all. The evil institution of slavery was our nation’s gravest departure from these founding principles. We expelled Native Americans from their ancestral lands. And our foreign policy, too, has not always comported with the idea of sovereignty embedded in the core of our founding.”

“But . . . the nation’s founding principles gave us a standard by which we could see the gravity of our failings and a political framework that gave us the tools to ultimately abolish slavery and enshrine into law equality without regard to race. . . . From Seneca Falls, to Brown vs. Board of Education, to the peaceful marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Americans have always laid claims to their promised inheritance of unalienable rights.”

The New York Times’s 1619 Project – so named for the year that the first slaves were transported to America – wants you to believe that our country was founded for human bondage, that America’s institutions continue to reflect the country’s acceptance of slavery at our founding. . . [and] that Marxist ideology [correctly says] America is only the oppressors and the oppressed. [This 1619 Project] is a slander on our great people. Nothing could be further from the truth of our founding and the rights about which this report speaks.”  (Emphasis added.)

The Commission rejects these notions and “reminds us [of] a quote from Frederick Douglas, himself a freed slave, who saw the Constitution as a ‘glorious, liberty document.’”

“If we truly believe . . . that rights are unalienable, inviolate, enduring, indeed, universal, just as the founders did, then defending them ought to be the bedrock of our every diplomatic endeavor.”

“Our dedication to unalienable rights doesn’t mean we have the capacity to tackle all human rights violations everywhere and at all times. Indeed, our pursuit of justice may clash with hard political realities that thwart effective action.”

“Americans have not only unalienable rights, but also positive rights, rights granted by governments, courts, multilateral bodies. Many are worth defending in light of our founding; others aren’t.”

Prioritizing which rights to defend is also hard. [According to a research group, there are] 64 human rights-related agreements, encompassing 1,377 provisions, between the United Nations and the Council of Europe alone. That’s a lot of rights. And the proliferation of rights is part of the reason why this report is so important.” This report “has provided us the [following] essential questions to ask:

  • Are our foreign policy decisions rooted in our founding principles?
  • Are the decisions consistent with our constitutional norms and procedures?
  • Are they rooted in the universal principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR]?
  • Does a new rights claim . . .represent a clear consensus across different traditions and across different cultures, as the Universal Declaration did, or is it merely a narrower partisan or ideological interest?”

The great and noble human rights project of the 20th century, [however.] is in crisis. Authoritarian regimes perpetrate gross human rights violations every day, all around the world. Too many human rights advocacy groups have traded proud principles for partisan politics. And we see multilateral human rights bodies failing us. The United Nations Human Rights Council does the bidding of dictators and averts its gaze from the worst human rights offenses of our times. [In addition,] international courts too have largely abandoned unalienable rights. The International Criminal Court is training its sights on Americans and Israelis, not the ayatollahs of the world. And the incurious media rarely examines any of these failings.”(Emphasis added.)

“The vital 20th century human rights project has come unmoored, and it needs a re-grounding. The Commission’s work marks an important contribution to America’s effort to address this human rights crisis, and it’s a good time to do so.”

[As the report says,] “we must cultivate the ‘seedbeds of human rights.’ Free and flourishing societies cannot be nurtured only by the hand of government. They must be nurtured through patriotic educators, present fathers and mothers, humble pastors, next-door neighbors, steady volunteers, honest businesspeople, and so many other faithful, quiet citizens.” (Emphasis added.)

We have the responsibility to educate and advocate. Our diplomatic posts all over the world have human rights officers working to promote American values. We can shine a light on abuses, and as we do when we issue our annual reports, we take stock of the world’s efforts on religious freedom, on human rights, and on human trafficking.” (Emphasis added.)

We too can empower the people of other nations to further their social and economic rights. Our USAID does this essential work, as does our W-GDP program, which helps women flourish as entrepreneurs. Women, sadly, suffer the most human rights abuses. We can help them do better.” (Emphasis added.)

“We can work productively too with other nations. We’ve done that. We’ve worked with 60-plus nations to help the Venezuelan people recover democracy from the Maduro dictatorship.”

We also “ have punitive tools too, such as sanctions that we’ve levied on human rights abusers in Iran and in Cuba, and a recent advisory that we put out about Xinjiang and companies doing business there. We want to make sure that no American business is knowingly benefiting from slave labor.” (Emphasis added.)

“But to do so effectively, we must insist on the rightness and the relevance of America’s founding principles. Surely, if America loses them, she loses her soul and our capacity to do good around the world.”

“I am confident that the American star will shine across the heavens, so long as we keep a proper understanding of unalienable rights at the center of our unending quest to secure freedom for our own people and all of mankind. The report that you worked on will ensure that we have a better chance to accomplish that.”

Glendon-Pompeo Conversation

Immediately after Pompeo’s speech, Chair Glendon and Pompeo had a brief conversation.  One of her questions was: “Why is human rights advocacy is such an important part of our national interest?”

Pompeo responded, “Our capacity to have influence around the world . . . stems from our confidence in ourselves and our deep commitment to the fact that this nation is exceptional, because we rallied around this idea of unalienable rights. [We have developed annual ministerial meetings to gather] religious leaders of all faiths from all around the world. It’s the largest gathering of religious leaders every year to talk about these set of rights and religious freedom. . . . Some two-thirds of the people in the world live in places that are extremely challenged with the absence of religious freedom and religious liberty, the simple chance to exercise their conscientious views on faith.” (Emphasis added.)

Yet Another Pompeo Speech

On July 17th (the very next day after the above speech], Pompeo and his wife were in West Des Moines, Iowa for a speech—”My Faith, My Work, My Country”[3]— at the Family Leader Summit.[4] Here a few things he said.

“We [at the State Department] have a responsibility to keep you all safe. We advocate too for American businesses abroad, and help create jobs in every state in the union. And we represent your principles. We’ve executed a foreign policy that American families in Des Moines, in Dubuque, and in Davenport can believe in. It’s a pro-national security foreign policy focused on America. It’s a pro-religious freedom foreign policy. And it’s a 100 percent pro-life foreign policy.” (Emphasis added.)

Later, he added, “America sets the tone for the rest of the world in this respect, and our administration has defended the rights of unborn like no other administration in history. Abortion quite simply isn’t a human right. It takes a human life. You all – you all know this. The Psalmist says in Psalm 139: ‘You knit me together in my mother’s womb.’ This is when life begins, full stop. So we’ve reinstated the Mexico City Policy, so that not a single dime of American taxpayer money will ever go to a foreign NGO that performs active abortions anywhere in the world. In the fall of last year, . . . Secretary Azar at Health and Human Services and I, we mobilized 20 countries to deliver a joint statement at the UN criticizing pro-abortion language in UN documents. This has not happened before. We said clearly that “there is no international right to an abortion.” (Emphasis added.)

He also had extensive negative comments about China and Iran and positive words about Israel.

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[1] State Dep’t, Pompeo Speech: Unalienable Rights and the Securing of Freedom (July 16, 2020)[“Pompeo Speech”].  (The above post highlights some points for discussion in a subsequent post.) See also Pompeo, American diplomacy must again ground itself in the nation’s founding principles, Wash. Post (July 16, 2020); Assoc. Press, Pompeo Says US Should Limit Which Human Rights It Defends, N.Y. Times (July 16, 2020)

[2]  Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2020: A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy..

[3] State Dep’t, Pompeo Speech: My Faith, My Work, My Country (July 17, 2020). 

[4] The Family Leader, which is based in Urbandale IA, is an organization that is focused on marriage as “a permanent lifelong commitment between a man and a woman;” on sanctity of life for “protection of life from conception to natural death;” on affirming “ sexual relations within the bond of marriage, and oppose distortions of sexuality or special rights to those practicing distorted sexual behavior.” (The Family Leader, Issues we are focused on.)

 

State Department Grants the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award to José Daniel Ferrer

On June 12, the U.S. State Department granted the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award to José Daniel Ferrer, a Cuban who has persistently criticized various policies of his government and who has been persecuted for so doing. Here is the text of that award.[1]

“Human rights defender José Daniel Ferrer has spent most of his adult life imprisoned for trying to make Cuba a free nation.  Ferrer has worked tirelessly to ensure all Cubans have a voice in the affairs of their own country.  The Castro regime has responded by beating and torturing Ferrer, harassing and threatening his family and colleagues, and imprisoning him simply for demanding a better life for Cubans.  Despite these abuses, Ferrer has persisted.”

“It is this persistence, this courage in the face of physical danger, and this resolve to help Cubans who yearn to be free that has earned José Daniel Ferrer the prestigious Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award.  The United States government joins in the chorus of international voices that praise and commend Ferrer’s work, and the brave work of Cuban citizens on the island and abroad whose sole mission is to demand a free and fair government that encourages its people to thrive, instead of a dictatorship that jails them for their dissenting opinions.”

“We urge the Cuban government to take an important first step in this effort by immediately releasing José Daniel Ferrer from his four-and-a-half-year house arrest sentence, and immediately freeing all political prisoners.  These prisoners are simply demanding a better government.  They should be honored for their efforts as Ferrer is rightly being honored today.”

“This is a particularly powerful moment for human rights around the world and in our country.  We recognize the significance of the moment and emphasize the importance of fighting for human rights and fundamental freedoms.  We have more work to do, and Americans are fulfilling their right and responsibility to demand a more perfect union. Until the Cuban people can enjoy the freedoms and rights they are entitled to, the United States government will never stop holding the Cuban government accountable for its abhorrent actions against its own people.

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[1] State Dep’t, Press Statement: José Daniel Ferrer Receives the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award (June 12, 2020).  This blog has published many posts and comments about Ferrer.

 

 

U.S. Insulting Proclamation of May 20th as Cuba’s Independence Day

On May 20, President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo stated that May 20 was Cuba’s Independence Day. Cuban officials immediately rejected that assertion.

Presidential Message on Cuban Independence Day, 2020[1]

“On Cuban Independence Day, we recognize the patriots who fought to liberate Cuba from its colonial oppression and build a society founded on freedom. We continue to stand with the Cuban people as they seek those fundamental rights, and we express our commitment to supporting them as they continue to fight for freedom and democracy.”

“The United States has historic ties to the Cuban people and remains in solidarity with the millions who have fled the oppression of Cuba’s tyrannical regime in search of a new life. Cuba’s people deserve a government that promotes individual liberties, basic human rights, and opportunities to prosper. The Cuban model represents failed socialism, and we will continue to ensure that Cuba does not export its repression anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. That is why I took action early in my Administration to implement a strong policy toward Cuba that promotes respect for human rights, free markets, and a transition to democracy in Cuba. America will keep working with our allies and partners in the Western Hemisphere to bring stability, religious liberty, cooperation, and a freer future to the great people of Cuba.”

“Today, we celebrate the many contributions of Cuban Americans to our American story, and we pledge to continue working with them to secure a better tomorrow for Cuba.”

Later that same day Trump delivered a video message to Cuban-Americans. “We proudly stand with the people of Cuba. We’re with you. We’re fighting with you. We’re thinking with you. Cuban Americans, we’re extremely proud of you. And I am glad you are on my side.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Statement on Cuban Independence Day[2]

“On Cuban Independence Day, I extend my warm regards and best wishes to the people of Cuba.  The United States joins you in celebrating the anniversary of Cuba’s independence, 118 years ago today.  The struggle of the Cuban people continues.  Your democratic system was overthrown by a military dictator at the middle of the last century.  But the revolution your forefathers fought for your rights, freedoms, and prosperity was hijacked by a communist dictatorship that has inflicted the worst forms of abuse on the Cuban people for 61 years.”

“Both Americans and Cubans alike value our independence and we seek to provide a better, more prosperous future for families, in realization of our God-given rights and dignity as individuals.  We salute the brave Cubans who carry on this struggle despite the threats and abuses of the Castro regime:  human rights defenders like José Daniel Ferrer and the Ladies in White; and journalists and truth-tellers like Roberto Quiñones, who by shining light on conditions in Cuba prevent the regime from hiding the truth.  We salute those demanding the right to exercise their faith in peace, like Pastors Ayda Expósito Leyva and Ramón Rigal, who chose to provide their children with a faith-based home-school education but were imprisoned for doing so.  These brave individuals, and many more who are unjustly imprisoned for their beliefs, or who daily face threats and abuse for standing up for what is right, are the true heirs to José Martí.”

“The United States stands with the Cuban people as you struggle to achieve your vision of a Cuba that is free and more just.  The day when your dream of freedom becomes reality is decades overdue, but that day will come.”

Cuba’s Responses[3]

An immediate response came in Tweets from Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He said, “The US Secretary of State is lying. Cubans do not commemorate this date, only remembered by the anti-Cuban groups which, from South Florida and with the broad support of the White House, still maintain annexationist interests and domination over Cuba.”

This thought was echoed by Rodrigo Malmierca, the head of Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment: Pompeo’s statement towards the Cuban people was “historical and politicized manipulation.”

In response to a similar message by President Trump in 2017, the Cuban government stated, “what was born on the day [May 20, 1902] was a Yankee neo-colony, which lived on until [the revolution on] January 1, 1959.”

Historical Context

This dispute over the “true” date for Cuba’s independence has been going on since at least 1959. The U.S. continued insistence on May 20 as the correct date is driven by U.S. hostility towards Cuba ever since the military defeat of the Cuban government by Fidel Castro-led rebels on January 1, 1959 (except for the period of normalization of relations led by President Obama,  December 2014—January 2017). An examination of history is necessary to understand this conflict.

May 20, 1902[4]

On April 24 and 25, 1898, Spain and the U.S. declared war against each other after the explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor. The U.S. Senate’s authorization of that declaration included the Teller Amendment, which disclaimed any “inclination or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction or control” of Cuba and the U.S. intention to “leave the government and control of the island to its people.” Thereafter the U.S. entered Cuba’s war of independence from Spain, which formally was ended on December 10, 1898 with the Treaty of Paris whereby Spain ceded Cuba (and Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines) to the U.S. Cuba was not a party to that treaty.

Thereafter, the U.S. assumed military control of Cuba. On May 20, 1902, the supposed date of Cuban independence arrived when the U.S. flag was lowered in Havana and the new Cuban flag was raised. This was after the U.S. adoption in early  1901 of the Platt Amendment, whose terms Cuba on December 25, 1901, reluctantly included in its constitution granting the U.S. the right to intervene in Cuba to preserves its independence and imposing other restrictions on Cuba.

These provisions of the Cuban constitution existed until 1934 when the U.S. and Cuba executed a treaty allowing Cuba to delete them from its constitution.

October 10, 1868[5]

This is Cuba’s real Independence Day (Dia de la Independencia) when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the “Father of the Homeland,” gave freedom to his slaves and started the first war of independence against the Spanish colonial power.

July 26, 1953 [6]

This is the Day of the National Revolution (Dia de la Rebeldia Nacional) to commemorate the day that the Cuban rebels started the Cuban revolution with an attack led by Fidel Castro on the Cuban Government’s Moncada Military Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. The rebels lost that battle, Fidel was captured,, tried, convicted, imprisoned and eventually exiled to Mexico, from which he successfully returned to Cuba in 1956 aboard the boat Granma and thereafter orchestrated the successful overthrow of the Batista regime on January 1, 1959.

July 26th, therefore, was chosen as the date for a speech in Matanzas, Cuba in 1991 by Nelson Mandela only a year-and-a half after his release from prison in South Africa.

January 1, 1959 [7]

This is the Triumph of the Revolution (Triunto de la Revolución) public holiday to commemorate the triumph of the revolution led by Fidel Castro.

Conclusion

Yes, on May 20, 1902, Cuba officially ceased to be a colony of Spain. But on that same date Cuba became a neo-colony of the U.S. or a territory under a de facto U.S. protectorate. It, therefore, is an insult for the U.S. to use grandiose language to proclaim that date as Cuba’s independence day.The U.S. should stop doing so.

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[1] White House, Presidential Message on Cuban Independence Day, 2020 (May 20, 2020); White House, President Trump’s Video Statement on Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2020).

[2] State Dep’t, [Pompeo’s} Press Statement: Cuban Independence Day (May 20, 2020.  Secretary Pompeo also issued tweets with the same theme. (Bruno Rodríguez: May 20 is celebrated by those who ‘keep claims of imperialist domination over Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (May 21, 2020).)

[3] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Bruno Rodriguez affirms Cubans don’t celebrate May 20th (May 20, 2000); Bruno Rodríguez: May 20 is celebrated by those who ‘keep claims of imperialist domination over Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (May 21, 2020); Center for Democracy in Americas, U.S.-Cuba News Brief (May 22, 2020).

[4]  U.S. Entry Into Cuban War of  Independence and Establishment of Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (April 23, 2017); U.S. DeFacto Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 27, 2019); Pérez, Cuba Between Empires, 1898-1902 (Univ. Pittsburgh Press 1983).

[5] Public Holidays in Cuba, Wikipedia. [This section was added to the original post after comments from several readers pointed out errors regarding its characterization of July 26th in Cuba.]

[6] Ibid.; Cuban Revolution, Wikipedia; Nelson Mandela Was Inspired by Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2018). [This section was revised after several readers pointed out errors regarding its characterization of July 26th in Cuba.]

[7] Public Holidays in Cuba, Wikipedia. [This section was added to the original post to complete the account of most of the major political holidays in Cuba.]

 

U.S. Senate Committee Demands Cuba To Release José Daniel Ferrer

As previously reported in this blog, last year on October 1 Cuban activist José Daniel Ferrer was arbitrarily arrested and detained without charges and subjected to cruel treatment in jail despite protests from the U.S. the European Union and human rights groups. This year, on February 22, he finally was tried for the alleged crimes of injury and deprivation of liberty to third parties and attack, and on April 3 the court pronounced him guilty of assault and kidnapping and sentenced him to four and a half years in prison, but simultaneously released him to house arrest on condition he refrain from any political activities.[1]

On May 21, 2020, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted a resolution calling for Cuba to immediately and unconditionally release Ferrer.[2]

The resolution was offered by Senators Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ), Dick ‘Durbin (Dem., IL), Ben Cardin (Dem., MD), Tim Kaine (Dem., VA), Marco Rubio (Rep. FL), Ted Cruz (Rep., TX) and Susan Collins (Rep., ME). Here are some of their comments about the resolution:

  • Senator Menendez said he was proud of the resolution, which also “condemns the continued oppressive tactics of the Cuban regime. “
  • Senator Rubio added, “”For a long time, the members of UNPACU have been the target of aggressions by the Cuban regime,” while stressing that Ferrer was arbitrarily detained for “eight months with unsubstantiated allegations and currently remains under house arrest by the dictatorship of Castro and Díaz-Canel.”
  • Senator Durbin: “While the world is facing a global pandemic, the Cuban government continues to harass and imprison its own people, whose only crime is to want a more open nation.”
  • Senator Collins: “José Daniel Ferrer is a committed and open defender of democracy who has repeatedly risked his freedom and his life to promote the freedom of his fellow citizens. Our bipartisan resolution expresses the solidarity of the Senate with Mr. Ferrer’s valiant fight for democratic principles, condemns the unjust actions of the Cuban authorities and calls for his immediate and unconditional release. “

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on Cuba and Denounces Cuba’s Detention of Dissident (Oct. 19, 2019); Secretary Pompeo Demands Release of Cuban Dissident (Feb. 27, 2020); José Daniel Ferrer Tried for Common Crime in Cuba (Feb. 28, 2020); Ferrer Sentenced to Prison and Then Released to House Arrest (April 4, 2020).

[2]  Senate Foreign Relations Comm., S. Res. 454 (Dec. 12, 2019); Senate Foreign Relations Comm., Menendez, Colleagues Applaud Approval of  Senate Bipartisan Resolution Calling for the Release of Cuban Activist Jose Daniel Ferrer (May 21, 2020); Senator Cruz, Press Release: Sens. Cruz, Menendez, Colleagues Applaud Approval of Senate Bipartisan Resolution Calling for the Release of Cuban Activist Jose Daniel Ferrer (May 22, 2020); The US Senate demands the definitive and unconditional release of José Daniel Ferrer, Diario de Cuba (May 22, 2020).

 

 

 

 

Comments on Cuba by the U.S. Commander of U.S. Southern Command       

On April 17, Admiral Craig S. Faller, the Commander, U.S. Southern Command, gave a special briefing focused on “the enhanced counternarcotics operations led by [the U.S. Defense Department’s] Southern Command,” which “is responsible for providing contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation in its assigned Area of Responsibility which includes Central America, South America and the Caribbean (except U.S. commonwealths, territories, and possessions) and for the force protection of U.S. military resources at these locations.” .” [1]

Most of the comments were about Venezuela, but in his opening remarks the commander said, “[T]he security of the Western Hemisphere is [affected by] external state actors and  . . . malign actors like Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Iran and others – external state actors that don’t share the democratic values, and they thrive on the instability created by transnational criminal organizations.”

Thereafter, the Commander did not give a direct answer to a question from a journalist from the Miami Herald about whether there was any evidence that Cuba was involved in drug trafficking with Venezuela. Instead, the Commander said, “[T]he connection between the illegitimate Maduro regime and Cuba is strong and thick, thick as ticks, and Maduro owes his position in power to the Cuban influence, and it surrounds him.  His presidential guard is primarily Cuban; the intelligence service is completely infiltrated by Cubans.  So, at the end of the day, as Special Representative Abrams has stated, Maduro must go and the Cubans must be out.  And their influence is strong, so there’s a strong connection between the Maduro government and Cuba, and by propping up the Maduro regime, Cubans have supported the illicit activities that Maduro is involved in, undoubtedly.”

Nor did he directly answer a follow-up question from another journalist as to whether there was any evidence that Cuba was trafficking drugs with Venezuela. The  Commander essentially repeated his earlier answer by saying, “So as I stated, the relationship between Cuba and Venezuela is extremely close, and there are thousands . . . of Cubans in Venezuela supporting the Maduro regime: the intelligence services, the protective services.  And so the extent to which Maduro owes his survival to his Cuban patronage is clear and unambiguous, and so undoubtedly Cuba is aware of the illicit activities that Maduro is conducting through narcotrafficking, through mining, through the myriad of ineffective state-run enterprises that steal from the Venezuelan people.  So there’s just no way that there’s not a connection in all respects. [However, he could not reveal details of the intelligence.] But as Special Representative Abrams has stated, Maduro must go and the Cubans are a key piece of making that happen.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Telephonic Press Briefing with Admiral Craig Faller, Commander, U.S. Southern Command (April 17, 2020).

 

U.S. State Department Announces Funding Opportunities for Cuba Proposals         

On April 17, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announced it was accepting applications for “proposals that align with the U.S. government policy to promote human rights in Cuba as stated in the June 16, 2017 National Security Presidential Memorandum—entitled “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba” —as well as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act and other relevant legislation.” [1]

Requirements for Applicants

Eligible applicants are  “U.S.-based and foreign-based non-profit organizations/nongovernment organizations (NGO) and public international organizations; private, public, or state institutions of higher education; and for-profit organizations or businesses.  DRL’s preference is to work with non-profit entities; however, there may be some occasions when a for-profit entity is best suited. In addition, applicants must have “proven capacity to implement foreign assistance programs to protect and promote internationally recognized human rights in Cuba” and the “existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with thematic or in-country partners, entities, and relevant stakeholders, including private sector partners and NGOs, and have demonstrable experience in administering successful and preferably similar projects. “

The Department anticipates making three to five awards with a “Funding Floor” of $500,000 and “Ceiling” of $2,000,000.

The Department’s Context for Proposals

“For more than sixty years, the Cuban regime has denied its citizens many of the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Political participation, freedom of association and peaceful assembly are restricted through tightly controlled, undemocratic elections and by withholding legal status from independent civil society organizations, labor unions, and diverse political parties or movements. The free flow of information and freedom of expression are suppressed by blocking the Cuban peoples’ access to media outlets, and by censoring independent journalists, artists, and other individuals with alternative views. As connectivity slowly increases, the government is also expanding measures to surveil and harass citizens online to further inhibit the free flow of information and to prevent activists from connecting with broader audiences in and outside Cuba.”

“The Cuban government also abuses freedom of religion or belief by restricting the ability of faith communities to congregate and worship outside of the state-sanctioned Council of Churches. Cuban state security regularly threatens, harasses, arbitrarily arrests, detains, and restricts the movement of human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists on-island. Human rights organizations report more than 100 prisoners of conscience in Cuban prisons, most sentenced under fabricated charges like “contempt” of Cuban authorities or “pre-criminal social dangerousness.” This repression is financed in large part by the labor exploitation of medical workers and other service providers, who receive only a fraction of the salaries paid by third countries for their services and often face threats from their Cuban government handlers to discourage them from absconding. Despite these systemic efforts by the regime to maintain strict control over all facets of cultural, political and socio-economic life in Cuba, independent civic groups, journalists, artists, entrepreneurs, and others are increasingly advocating for more inclusive economic and political institutions.”

“DRL programs in Cuba aim to strengthen the capabilities of on-island, independent civil society to advance the above-mentioned rights and interests of all individuals in Cuba, and to overcome the limitations imposed by the Cuban government on the exercise of these civil and political rights.  DRL also strives to ensure its projects advance principles of non-discrimination with respect to race, religion, gender, disability, and other individual characteristics.”

“DRL seeks proposals that support Cuban-led initiatives that promote the human rights of all in Cuba—particularly the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, expression, political participation and religion and belief—and strengthen and expand the reach of those initiatives in Cuba by focusing on issues that resonate with Cuban citizens. Competitive proposals may also support the documentation of human rights abuses, including for use in domestic and international advocacy, and increase the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.  Proposals should offer a specific vision for contributing to change while acknowledging and developing contingencies for challenges to program implementation. Proposals should demonstrate consultative dialogue with local Cuban partners and present sound strategies to develop organizational capacity and foster collaboration among diverse segments of Cuba’s independent civil society.  Proposals should also include concrete initiatives that address recent developments on the island and have the potential to generate short-term impacts while leading to long-term sustainable change. (Emphasis added.)

“DRL prefers innovative approaches rather than projects that simply duplicate or add to ongoing efforts by other entities.  This does not exclude projects that clearly build on existing successful projects in a new way.  DRL encourages applicants to foster collaborative partnerships with each other and submit a combined proposal in which one organization is designated as the lead applicant.  The applicant should also demonstrate experience programming effectively within Cuba and/or within other closed society environments.  Most importantly, the applicant should clearly demonstrate that the proposed activities emanate directly from needs expressed by Cuban civil society organizations.”

“Successful applications in the past have proposed activities reflective of the skills, knowledge, and linguistic capabilities of target beneficiaries.  Successful applications have also considered practical limitations of groups’ and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities and strive to ensure that beneficiary organizations will continue to function while certain members are participating in off-island activities.” (Emphases added.)

DRL also has a long list of activities that “typically are NOT considered: “The provision of humanitarian assistance; English language instruction; Development of high-tech computer or communications software and/or hardware; Purely academic research, exchanges, or fellowships; External exchanges or fellowships lasting longer than six weeks; Off-island activities that are not clearly linked to in-country initiatives and impact or are not necessary for security concerns; Theoretical explorations of human rights or democracy issues, including projects aimed primarily at research and evaluation for publication that do not incorporate training or capacity-building for local civil society;  Micro-loans or similar small business development initiatives; Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or fail to provide clear evidence that activities will achieve the stated impact; Initiatives directed towards a diaspora community rather than current residents of Cuba; [and] Activities that are a duplication of other ongoing USG-funded projects in Cuba.”

Finally there will be no funding of “programs . . . that support the Cuban government, including Cuban government institutions, individuals employed by those institutions, or organizations controlled by government institutions.”

Conclusion

This is yet another of the weird and misguided U.S. public announcements of U.S. government-financed unilateral programs in Cuba without the cooperation of the Cuban government and indeed with the latter’s opposition and hence the need for these programs to be under-cover. The Department, therefore, highlights the need for applications to consider “contingencies for challenges to program implementation” and the “practical limitations of groups’ and individuals’ ability to participate in project activities.” In short, this is a fatally flawed idea.

How would the U.S. government react if Russia were to publicly announce that it was soliciting proposals for under-cover hacking of the U.S. election of 2020?

This proposal also continues to embrace the flawed claims that Cuba “abuses freedom of religion or belief” and that Cuba’s foreign medical mission program constitutes illegal forced labor, as discussed in many previous posts to this blog.[2] This proposal also continues to fail to understand why a small, poor nation of 11 people has rational fears of its much larger and more powerful neighbor to the north with a long history of hostility towards the island.

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[1] State Dep’t, Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): DRL FY19: Cuba Proposals (April 17, 2020).

[2] See these sections (“Cuban Human rights,” “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” and “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.”) in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

Ferrer Sentenced to Prison and Then Released  to House Arrest 

On April 3, José Daniel Ferrer appeared in the Provincial court in Santiago de Cuba, where the judges announced that he was guilty of assault and kidnapping and sentenced to four and a half years in prison.  Instead the judges released him to house arrest on condition he not carry out any political activity.. His civilian clothes were returned, and he was returned to his home in a patrol car.[1]

Afterwards Ferrer said, ““I am not going to comply with any of the rules imposed by the court. I will continue with more strength than ever.” He added that for him “overthrowing tyranny is a sacred matter. Without the solidarity of many brothers within Cuba and abroad, he would not be alive, because the intention was to leave me and other fighters within Cuba.” The regime “was looking for ways to get out of international pressure” due to his preceding imprisonment.

At the same court hearing, five other activists with Ferrer’s group (UNPACU) were sentenced to five years in prison, but also released for house arrest.

Diario de Cuba believes the granting of house arrest was due primarily to pressure from the European Socialist Group. Some of their leaders were on the island to attend his trial on February 26, but were denied entry to the courtroom. Immediately afterwards they voiced their complaints to the island’s senior leaders, including the President of the National Assembly of People’s Power. In addition to complaints about the Ferrer arrest and trial, the Europeans raised more general complaints about Cuba’s arbitrary arrests, imprisonment awaiting trial, reduced freedom of expression and restrictions on movement,[2].

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[1] The regime releases José Daniel Ferrer and detained UNPACU activists, Diario de Cuba (April 3, 2020); Assoc. Press, Cuba Gives Prominent Dissident House Arrest, Reads Sentence, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2020). This blog has published many posts about the Ferrer case, including protests from the U.S. and international human rights groups, which are summarized in this post: Cuba and U.S. Debate Cuba’s Treatment of José Daniel Ferrer (Mar. 19, 2020).

[2]  The release of José Daniel Ferrer would [not] have materialized. . .  [without] pressure from the European Union, Diario de Cuba (April 4, 2020).