President Trump Proclaims His “Success” on Cuba  

On December 31 President Trump released a lengthy recital of his administration’s alleged successes over its first three years and as an obvious prelude to his re-election campaign.[1]

In that recital President Trump said the following about Cuba:

“President Trump has promoted democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere and imposed heavy sanctions on the regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.”

“The President reversed the previous Administration’s disastrous Cuba policy.”

“President Trump has enacted a new policy aimed at stopping any revenues from reaching the Cuban military or intelligence services, imposed stricter travel restrictions, and reaffirmed the focus ensuring the Cuban regime does not profit from U.S. dollars.”

“Earlier this year, the Trump Administration put a cap on remittances to Cuba.”

“President Trump is enabling Americans to file lawsuits against persons and entities that traffic in property confiscated by the Cuban regime, the first time that these kind of claims have been available for Americans under the Helms-Burton Act.”

Conclusion

These statements are correct if one ignores the self-congratulatory evaluation of the administration’s actions. For those like this blogger, they are deplorable actions.[2]

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[1] White House, President Donald J. Trump Has Delivered Record Breaking Results For The American People In His First Three Years in Office (Dec. 31, 2019).

[2] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

 

Another U.S. Designation of  Cubans Ineligible To Enter U.S.   

On January 2, 2020, the U.S. Department of State designated  Leopoldo Cintra Frias and his two children ineligible to enter the U.S.[1]

He is the Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba (MINFAR) and according to the State Department. “bears responsibility for Cuba’s actions to prop up the former Maduro regime in Venezuela.  Alongside Maduro’s military and intelligence officers, MINFAR has been involved in gross human rights human rights

violations and abuses in Venezuela, including torturing or subjecting Venezuelans to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment for their anti-Maduro stances.  Dismantling Venezuela’s democracy by terrifying Venezuelans into submission is the goal of MINFAR and the Cuban regime.”

This U.S. action claims to be based on the FY 2019 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, when “the Secretary of State has credible information that foreign government officials have been involved in significant corruption or a gross violation of human rights.”

This U.S. action probably is merely words since this blogger suspects that it is highly unlikely that Senor Cinta Frias or his children want to come to the U.S.

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[1] State Dep’t, Press Statement: Public Designation of Leopoldo Cintra Frias Due to Involvement in Gross Violations of Human Rights (Jan. 2, 2020).

 

Dwindling Hope in Cuba    

Five years ago, on December 17, 2014, U.S. President Obama and Cuba President Raúl Castro simultaneously announced that their two countries had embarked on a process of normalization and reconciliation that continued through the rest of Obama’s presidency that ended on January 20, 2017. [1] President Trump, however, has halted that process and in fact has adopted many hostile policies regarding the island.

On the fifth anniversary of the Obama/Castro announcement, journalists from the Associated Press walked through Havana to ask Cubans how they felt about the current conditions on the island. Overall, the journalists said, “it feels almost as if that historic moment never happened.. . . Now, the two years of detente under Obama feel like a temporary break in a long history of tension and struggle that has no end in sight.”[2]

“The Cuban economy is stagnant, with tourism numbers flat and aid from Venezuela far below its historic peak as Cuba’s oil-rich chief ally fights through its own long crisis.”[3]

Antoin Ugartez, a 42-year-old father of three who rents a three-wheeled covered scooter known as a Cocotaxi from a state-run agency, said the post-Trump decline in tourism had hit him hard. Detente, he said, “was a great step forward for Cuban society. Things developed and you started to see different perspectives, a different vision of economic improvement for your family, the conditions you live in.” Now, he said, “I barely make enough to put food on the table.”

On December 16, 2019 (the day before the fifth anniversary), Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s General Director for U.S. Affairs, Fernández de Cossio, said, “There are powerful people today in the U.S. government that want to increasingly apply hostile measures and sever our bilateral relationship. If that were to be the case, we are ready to face that reality, but it is not what the people of Cuba want and not what the government of Cuba is seeking.”[4]

In an apparent response to this Cuban comment, an anonymous State Department official said, “”While there are no plans to break off diplomatic ties at this time, one thing that has clearly reached a low point is the Castro regime’s abuses of its own people. In addition, the regime is spreading its totalitarian repression to other countries in the region.”

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[1] U.S. and Cuba Embark on Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec.  21, 2014).

[2] Assoc. Press, 5 Years After Detent With US, Cubans Say Hope Has Dwindled, N.Y. times (Dec. 17, 2019).

[3]  On December 12, 2019, the Cuban government announced that foreign visitors for the year were only slightly more than four million versus predictions of more than five million. Taxi drivers, classic car tours, private bed and breakfasts, restaurants and other private businesses dependent on foreign visitors have been especially suffering with this lower number. (Assoc. Press, Cuba Tourists Barely Pass 4 Million, in Disappointing Result, N.Y. Times (Dec. 12, 2019).)

[4]  Reuters, Cuba Says It Is Prepared if U.S. Chooses to Sever Diplomatic Ties, N.Y. Times (Dec. 16, 2019).

 

Cuba’s Aging, Declining Population Continues  

Cuba continues to experience low birth rates and an aging and declining population that were discussed in previous blog posts.[1]

The latest statistic on live births on the island is 116,333 for 2018, which was a 19% decline from 143,528 in 2000.[2] Now Cuba has one of the world’s lowest gross birth rates, 10.4 per thousand (compared to 33.4 per thousand registered in 1965). Coupling  this with the island’s increasing life expectancy, Cuba  is facing “a demographic time bomb.”

According to an author in Diario de Cuba, Elijah Love, “the social and economic conditions in Cuban society are the main obstacle to the growth of birth rates.”

In short, the low birth rate “demonstrates the failure of the Cuban economic system and the need to “return to a market economy system, in which productive capital and wealth, savings and investment, are the axes of the economic system.” This would include policies “aimed at effectively promoting economic growth, prosperity and the improvement of the standard of living of all Cubans, the accumulation of capital and wealth, savings and investment.”

This analysis surprisingly did not discuss the additional negative impact on Cuba’s population and economy of the emigration of younger Cubans seeking greater opportunities elsewhere.

However, on December 11, the Cuban Government announced that in April 2020 it would hold a conference in Havana about emigration. The stated purpose is to strengthen relations with the emigrants although the Government’s statement emphasized improving relations with Cubans born abroad and those “who do not have a position that is openly against the island’s government.”[3]

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[1]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Projected Cuban Population: Stabilizing and Aging (Sept. 6, 2016); Cuba Addresses Its Aging and Declining Population (Oct. 17, 2016); Cuba’s Success and Problems with an Aging, Declining Population  (Mar. 10, 2019).

[2]  Love, A new policy is needed to reverse the birth crisis in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 13, 2019).

[3] Cuban Government announces 4th The Nation and Emigration Conference, On Cuba News (Dec. 12, 2019).

 

 

Another Theory for Cause of Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

Robert Bartholomew, an U.S. expert in neurodegenerative diseases at U.C.L.A., and Robert W. Baloh, a sociologist at New Zealand’s Botany College, contend that the medical problems suffered by some U.S. diplomats in Cuba are “more akin to shell shock,” a “signature feature of which was concussion-like symptoms.” They add, “A characteristic feature of combat syndromes over the past century is the appearance of an array of neurological complaints from an overstimulated nervous system that are commonly misdiagnosed as concussions and brain damage.” [1]

The various explanations of these medical problems have been discussed in other posts to this blog.[2]

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[1] Cockburn, Havana Syndrome: ‘Emotional Trauma and fear’ most likely cause of illness among US diplomats in Cuba, not mysterious sonic weapons, Independent (Nov. 1, 2019); Bartholomew & Baloh, Challenging the diagnosis of ‘Havana Syndrome’ as a novel clinical entity,  J. Royal Soc’y of Medicine (Oct. 31, 2019)

[2] See the posts to dwkcommentaries.com listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” and “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2019” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

 

Cuba Tells European Union That Ferrer Is Not a Political Detainee 

On November 26, 2019, Norma Goicochea, Cuba’s Ambassador to the European Union (EU), released an open letter to the European Parliament asserting that José Daniel Ferrer is not a political detainee on the island.[1] The following alleged grounds were provided for that conclusion:

  • On October 1 Ferrer was arrested “in response to the complaint filed by his countryman Sergio García, who accused him and three other individuals of kidnapping him for a whole night,” severely beating him and leaving him in hospital admission.
  • Ferrer now is awaiting trial on charges from that incident.
  • The U.S. and its diplomatic mission in Cuba have been “guiding, instigating and financing the violent and destabilizing behavior of Ferrer while intending “to fabricate the image of [him as] a persecuted and mistreated” political dissident.
  • Moreover, “the US embassy in Havana [has concentrated] in recent months on the failed purpose of recruiting mercenaries, of promoting division and confusion in [Cuba], of identifying the areas of the [Cuban] economy against which [to] direct coercive measures, and [of] trying to slander and discredit the management of the Cuban Government and the Revolution. ”
  • In Cuba, “as in many countries where the rule of law prevails, it is the law that establishes the procedures and circumstances that warrant detention; as well as the terms [for holding a] detainee . . . subject to precautionary measures, [and when a] criminal proceeding must be initiated or [dismissed.]”
  • “Ferrer has received a visit from his wife and children and received proper medical attention.” In addition, he “performs regular physical exercises and, upon request, religious assistance is provided. I can assure you that all references to [his] physical disappearance, alleged physical abuse, torture or receiving insufficient food are false. These lies are deliberately conceived and guided by the United States Government and its Embassy in Havana.”

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[1] Cuba points to the European Union that José Daniel Ferrer is not a political detainee, Cubadebate (Nov. 26, 2019).  Earlier blog posts have discussed recent events regarding Ferrer.

 

 

State Department’s New U.S.-Cuba Relations Fact Sheet

On November 22, the State Department published its new U.S.-Cuba “Bilateral Relations Fact Sheet.”[1] Here is what it said.

“U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS “

“The United States seeks a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people. The United States pursues limited engagement with Cuba that advances our national interests and empowers the Cuban people while restricting economic practices that disproportionately benefit the Cuban government or its military, intelligence, or security agencies at the expense of the Cuban people. The U.S. government seeks to promote human rights, religious freedom, and democracy, encourages the development of telecommunications and the internet in Cuba, supports the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector and civil society, and engages in areas that advance the interests of the United States and the Cuban people. The United States is committed to supporting safe, orderly, and legal migration from Cuba through the effective implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. Due to injuries sustained by our diplomatic community in Havana, visa processing for most Cuban applicants is presently taking place in third countries.”

“Bilateral Economic Relations”

“Although economic sanctions remain in place, the United States is the largest provider of food and agricultural products to Cuba, with exports of those goods valued at $220.5 million in 2018.  The United States is also a significant supplier of humanitarian goods to Cuba, including medicines and medical products, with total value of all exports to Cuba of $275.9 million in 2018. Remittances from the United States, estimated at $3.5 billion for 2017, play an important role in Cuba’s state-controlled economy.”

“Travel to Cuba” 

“Travel to Cuba for tourist activities remains prohibited, and U.S. federal regulations restrict travel to Cuba to licensed travelers engaged in certain specified activities. Anyone physically present in the United States, regardless of citizenship and nationality, must comply with these regulations.  Individuals seeking to travel to Cuba are not required to obtain licenses from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) if their travel is authorized under a general license.  For travel not covered by a general license, travelers must seek OFAC authorization in the form of a specific license. Further information on the licensing process or the categories of authorized travel can be found on OFAC’s website.  Those contemplating travel to Cuba should also consult the consular information page about the country.”

“Transactions Involving Cuba”

“Transactions by persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction involving Cuba are generally prohibited unless specifically authorized by OFAC. For more information on transactions, please consult OFAC’s website.”

“Certain exports to Cuba must be licensed by the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). Further information on exports to Cuba can be found on the BIS website. Most imports from Cuba and other Cuban-origin goods (e.g., merchandise purchased or otherwise acquired in Cuba or of Cuban origin acquired in a third country) are prohibited, although importation of Cuban-origin information and informational materials (for example, publications, films, posters, photographs, tapes, compact discs, and certain artwork) are exempt from the prohibition.  Exports of certain items to Cuba that are intended to improve the living conditions, support independent economic activity, strengthen civil society, improve the free flow of information and facilitate lawful travel and commerce are generally authorized without a license (see here).  Moreover, certain goods and services produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs are eligible for importation into the United States – for more information, see the State Department’s Section 515.582 List.  Further information on imports from Cuba can be found on the OFAC website.”

“Cuba Restricted List” 

“Direct financial transactions with certain entities and sub-entities under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services are also generally prohibited.  For more information, see the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List; Treasury’s regulations at 31 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 515.209, here; and Commerce’s regulations at 15 CFR parts 730-774, here.”

“Cuba’s Membership in International Organizations”

“Cuba and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, but usually take opposing positions on international issues.  Cuba was suspended from participation in the Organization of American States in 1962.  Its suspension was lifted in 2009; however, it has not engaged in the dialogue required for further participation in OAS processes.  At the invitation of host governments, Cuba attended the Summit of the Americas in 2015 and 2018.”

“Bilateral Representation”

“Principal U.S. embassy officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.”

“Cuba is represented in the United States by the Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC.”

“More information about Cuba is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:

CIA World Factbook Cuba Page
U.S. Embassy
USAID Cuba Page
History of U.S. Relations With Cuba
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Countries Page
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Office of Foreign Assets Control Sanctions Page
Bureau of Industry and Security Cuba
Travel Information

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[1] State Dep’t, U.S.Relations with Cuba: Bilateral Relations Fact Sheet (Nov. 22, 2019).