Cuban Events in Minnesota

Although far from Cuba, Minnesota has a strong interest in the island: its relations with the U.S. and its politics, religions, history, arts and people. Here are upcoming events in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul demonstrating that interest:

Date Time Event & Place
Cuba: The Accidental Eden.” This small island’s varied landscape, its location in the heart of the Caribbean and its longstanding place at the center of Cold War politics have all combined to preserve some of the richest and most unusual natural environments of the hemisphere. For decades, Cuba’s wild landscapes lay untouched while its Caribbean neighbors poisoned or paved over their ecological riches. Now, Cuba’s priceless treasures are about to face an onslaught. Tourism is already on the rise and most experts predict tourism will double once the U.S. trade embargo ends. What will happen to Cuba’s stunning biodiversity – an island filled with amphibians, reptiles and the most biologically diverse freshwater fish in the region? (National Public Television’s Nature’s Episode # 2711 was shown on local public television station, tpt, on August 3 & 4, 2014, and is available online as a DVD.)
Race to Revolution.” Dr. Gerald Horne, the author of Race to Revolution, discusses his book’s thesis that the histories of Cuba and the U.S. are tightly intertwined and have been for at least two centuries, including the interconnections among slavery, Jim Crow, and revolution. Slavery was central to the economic and political trajectories of Cuba and the U.S., both in terms of each nation’s internal political and economic development and in the interactions between the two countries. This was a Sojourner Truth radio program that was broadcast on August 29th, but can be heard anytime for the next 90 days at www.kpfk.com.
Sept. 2 7:00-8:00 pm Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go to War.” This film tells the inside story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, exploring how in October 1962 the earth teetered on the very brink of nuclear holocaust. The documentary brings to life the three central characters John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev, and explores how the world’s most powerful men fell into an abyss of their own making and what courage and luck it took to climb out again. tpt Channel 2.
Sept. 2 8;00-9:00 pm Fidel Castro Tapes.” This film takes viewers on a journey like none other. This program uses only news and documentary footage — past and present — to detail the life and times of one of the most controversial political figures of the 20th Century. There is no narration in this film and no interviews. Instead, The Fidel Castro Tapes relies solely on the words of journalists who covered the major events in Castro’s life to tell the story. It is a unique approach, one that gives the viewer a chance to experience the life and times of Cuba’s leader as if they were actually living through them. tpt Channel 2.
Oct. 5 7:30 pm A Night in Havana.” A special concert with pianist Nachito Herrera, a Cuban-American resident of the Twin Cities, and his Cuban Orchestra with a dance floor! Ordway Music Theater, 345 Washington Street, St. Paul; www.ordway.org; tel: 651-243-2825. Tickets start at $23, but $10 discount with promo code “NACHITO SPECIAL.”
Oct. 6 5:50-7:30 pm What Does the Future Hold for Cuba-U.S. Relations?” Cuba’s top diplomatic official in the U.S., Dr.José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, will speak about U.S.-Cuba relations, the impact of Cuba’s economic reforms and ongoing U.S. sanctions and the prognosis for normalized relations. Co-sponsored by the Minnesota International Center and the University of St. Thomas, the event will be at the University of St. Thomas, Thornton Auditorium, 1000 LaSalle Avenue, Minneapolis. MIC & corporate members, cosponsors & students, $5; others, $15. Advance registration requested online or by phone (612-625-1662).
Oct. 11 2:00 pm Reembarque (Reshipment).” Film about Haitians immigration to Cuba in the early 20th century and their life in Cuba by Cuban documentary filmmaker, Gloria Rolando. Discussion after the film by Rolando and Robert Byrd, program director of the Jerome Foundation’s Film and Video Program. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Pillsbury Auditorium, 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis. FREE.
Oct. 22 7:30 pm Creole Choir of Cuba. Experience the heart and soul of Cuba through irresistible melodies, poetic lyrics and impassioned vocal and percussive performance. With influences from both the Caribbean and West Africa, the Creole Choir of Cuba tells stories of survival, faith and tragic history, drawing you in with infectious music. Ordway Music Theater, 345 Washington Street, St. Paul; www.ordway.org; tel: 651-243-2825.

If you know of other Cuban events in Minnesota through the end of this year, please add a comment with the relevant information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creole–http://www.ordway.org/performances/14-15/creole-choir-of-cuba/

 

Film–http://new.artsmia.org/event/durades-dialogue-film-reembarquereshipment-with-gloria-rolando-and-robert-byrd/

Another USAID Effort To Promote Regime Change in Cuba: Other Reactions

On August 4th, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had funded and implemented a program in 2010-2012 to attract young Cubans for purported civic programs on the island with the real purpose of recruiting them to anti-government activism.

Prior posts looked at the AP’s account of this program and the U.S. government’s reactions. Now we discuss the reactions of others.

A number of U.S. NGOs interested in U.S.-Cuba relations criticized the program. For example, the Latin American Working Group, one of the nation’s longest-standing coalitions of over 60 major religious, humanitarian, grassroots and policy organizations, said, “Programs like this greatly hamper efforts to restore relations between the United States and Cuba. The ‘Travelers Project’ not only delegitimizes global healthcare programs, but erodes trust in the U.S. Government both abroad and at home. This program has cost the United States a considerable amount of money and credibility and is a great setback to productive and respectful engagement with Cuba.”

According to Professor William L. LeoGrande, American University of Washington, D.C., “Cuba already has the best HIV/AIDS prevention program and the lowest incidence rate in Latin America. Or that everywhere else in the world, USAID’s laudable work on HIV/AIDS is conducted openly in partnership with the host government. The program in Cuba is obviously not about HIV/AIDS at all. That was just the cover story — “the perfect excuse,” as one of the program documents called it — for the real goal of recruiting “potential social change actors.”

LeoGrande added that the program was secret, covert and undercover under “the common sense meaning” of those words and that the USAID contrary position was absurd. Moreover, this and other USAID Cuba programs “have demonstrated a clear pattern of knowingly putting innocent people at serious legal risk in Cuba by involving them in subversive activity without their knowledge. That is morally reprehensible, indefensible, and sufficient reason by itself to de-fund these programs once and for all. . . . The other clear pattern these programs exhibit is comical incompetence.”

Similar criticisms were voiced by the following:

  • Pan-American Post: criticism of USAID’s use of HIV clinics as a front, confusing Cubans’ complaints with willingness to rebel against the government and providing minimal training for the people it secretly sent to Cuba;
  • Andrew Breiner of the ThinkProgress blog: U.S. using health programs in several foreign countries for ulterior purposes leads to distrust of health workers in foreign countries;
  • Phil Peters, President of the Cuba Research Center, condemns USAID’s lack of responsibility and disrespect for the Cuban citizens that are unknowingly swept into the agency’s poorly organized secret operations and USAID’s denial that the program was covert; and
  • Charles Kenny, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development said the use of an HIV workshop as a front for political subversion will “only make the distrust worse” in many of the places where the agency operates and potentially damage U.S.-Latin America cooperation in the face of global challenges such as the current Ebola outbreak.

Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations understandingly objected to this USAID program. It said, the program “reconfirms that the [U.S.] government has not renounced its hostile, interventionist strategy in Cuba, meant to create destabilizing situations and provoke change in our political order, and to which millions of dollars are destined every year. The [U.S.] government must immediately end all subversive, illegal undercover operations in Cuba, which violate of our sovereignty and the express will of the Cuban people to perfect our economic and social model, and consolidate our democracy.”

A similar statement was released by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Free Trade Agreement of the Peoples (ALBA-TCP), whose members are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Venezuela.

On the other hand, some of the Costa Rican and Venezuelan participants in the program denied that the purpose of the program was to foment a revolution against the Cuban government.

As of August 13th, no comment on this program has been made by Creative Associates International, the private contractor that operated the program for USAID. In fact, the company’s website does not mention Cuba at all.

Conclusion

One does not promote democracy and human rights by using antidemocratic and anti-human rights tactics like this USAID program. It is immoral and stupid.

In fact, programs like this reinforce Cuban limits on dissent. When a small and poor country like Cuba faces covert subversion programs and long-term hostility from its vastly superior, militarily and economically, neighbor to the north, that small country has to be vigilant in its own self-defense and self-preservation. If the U.S. really wanted to improve democracy and human rights in Cuba, the U.S. would enter into good-faith negotiations with Cuba to end the U.S. embargo of the island and resolve a multitude of other issues leading to reconciliation and restoration of normal diplomatic relations.[1]

Finally the U.S. assertion that this and other USAID Cuban programs are not secret, covert and undercover is nothing but Orwellian gobbledygook.

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[1] A prior post from 2011 argued for such reconciliation and another from 2012 did so in an open letter to President Obama.

Another USAID Effort To Promote Regime Change in Cuba: U.S. Government’s Reactions

As discussed in a prior post, on August 4th, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had funded and implemented a program in 2010-2012 to attract young Cubans for purported civic programs on the island with the real purpose of recruiting them to anti-government activism.

Now we will look at the U.S. government’s responses to the article. Another post will discuss the reactions of others.

  1. USAID

Unknown

On August 4th, USAID issued a statement that admitted the existence of the program. It said that with congressional funding, the agency had conducted this program under the umbrella of “democracy programming in Cuba to empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society.” This “is important to [USAID’s] mission to support universal values, end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies,” especially in countries like Cuba that do not enjoy the “right to speak freely, assemble and associate without fear, and freely elect political leaders.” Thus, said USAID, the AP article was correct in its assertion that the purpose of the program was “to empower citizens to ‘tackle a community or social problem, win a ‘small victory’ and ultimately realize that they could be the masters of their own destiny.’”

Yet USAID denied that the program was secret, covert or undercover. In countries like Cuba that are closed and hostile to the U.S., the USAID programs are conducted with ”discretion.”

In fact, the USAID statement continued, information about USAID’s Cuba programs, is available publicly at foreignassistance.gov. That website, however, does not provide any information about this specific program or any other such program in Cuba.

Instead, it says the State Department and USAID provides assistance to Cuba that “will support civil society initiatives that promote democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression. Programs will provide humanitarian assistance to victims of political repression and their families; strengthen independent Cuban civil society; and promote the flow of uncensored information to, from, and within the island.” The website also provides the following aggregated information (in millions of dollars) about such programs for Cuba:

 

FY Appropriated      [1] Obligated [2] Spent [3]
2009 [$15.0] $13.5 $12.2
2010 $20.0 $ 8.9 $11.0
2011 $20.0 $ 9.6 $ 7.7
2012 $20.0 $ 8.3 $ 8.2
2013 $19.3 $ 9.0 $ 7.3
2014 $15.0 $ 1.8
2015 $20.0

The website also provides “disaggregated” data that shows an expenditure in 2013 of $171,700 to Creative Associates International for “Professional, administrative and support services.” There was no disclosure of the program mentioned above or of the Cuban social media program conducted for USAID by Creative Associates International that was discussed in prior posts.[4]

On August 7th USAID updated its own webpage titled “Cuba-Our Work.” It states, “USAID focuses on increasing the ability of Cubans to participate in civic affairs and improve human rights conditions on the island. By reaching out to the dissident community and beyond and engaging citizens to enhance local leadership skills, strengthen organizational capacity, facilitate outreach strategies, and support greater access to information and communication, the USAID program contributes to the development of independent civil society groups that can ultimately make significant contributions at the local and national levels.”

According to the “Cuba-Our Work” webpage, these programs focus on (a) humanitarian support to political prisoners and their families; (b) facilitating the free flow of information; and (c) Human rights and democracy promotion. The last of these three involves “USAID [support of] independent civic, social, and development activities by providing technical and material assistance to organize, train, and energize small groups of people within their communities. These efforts provide an opportunity for citizens to work together in a manner independent from the state. USAID also provides trainings on documenting human rights abuses according to international standards and raises awareness of such abuses within Cuba and around the world.”

That same webpage lists seven “current program partners:” Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia, International Relief and Development, International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, New America Foundation and Pan-American Development Foundation. Note that Creative Associates International is not mentioned.

  1. State Department

USDeptStatesealOn August 4th a U.S. State Department spokesperson also defended the program that was the subject of the AP report. She said, “Congress . . . funds democracy program in Cuba to empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society. This [HIV] workshop . . . enabled support for Cuban civil society while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desires Cubans express for information and training about HIV prevention.” There also were “community cleanups, cultural activities, tree plantings.” Programs in countries like Cuba are operated in a discreet manner to help ensure the safety of those involved . . . . This was not a covert program. There are programs that are done discreetly in order to protect the safety of the people involved.”

  1. Senator Robert Menendez
Senator Robert Menendez
Senator Robert Menendez

Menendez (Democrat—NJ, a Cuban-American and Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) said, “I stand in full support of [USAID] and its efforts to empower Cuban civil society.  Initiatives that facilitate community education and organizing are an important step towards addressing the social, political and economic challenges facing Cubans today, and who are denied access to an independent media and basic civic interaction.  Moreover, I reaffirm that these programs are consistent with more than a half-century of effort by the [U.S.] Government to promote democracy, human rights and universal values around the world.”

Menendez also commended “the young activists from across Latin America who traveled to Cuba to engage their peers in broad discussions about shaping their future and the future of the country.  It is my sincere hope that Latin American governments will follow the examples set by these courageous activists and will stand in support of the Cuban people – both young and old.”

  1. Senator Patrick Leahy.
Senator Patrick Leahy
Senator Patrick Leahy

Leahy (Democrat-VT and chair of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees USAID) said, “It is one thing to support nascent Cuban civil society organizations, if USAID’s role is disclosed in advance to participants and beneficiaries. It is quite another to concoct an HIV/AIDS workshop to promote a political agenda. If that is what happened here it is worse than irresponsible. It may have been good business for USAID’s contractor, but it tarnishes USAID’s long track record as a leader in global health.”

  1. Senator Jeff Flake

Unknown-2Flake (Republican-Arizona) said, “”These programs are in desperate need of adult supervision. If you are using an AIDS workshop as a front for something else, that’s … just wrong.”

  1. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

 

Ros-Lehtinen (Republican-FL and a Cuban-American) said, “USAID . . . [use of] measures to promote democracy in Cuba is no secret. We must continue to pressure the Castro regime and support the Cuban people, who are oppressed on a daily basis. I wish the press would dedicate more of their time to reporting the rampant human rights abuses in Cuba perpetrated by the Castro regime instead of manipulating the coverage of programs promoting freedom of expression and justice on the island.”

7. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Diaz-Balart (Republican-FL and a Cuban-American) said, “Efforts by the State Department and USAID to bring information to the Cuban people, and to find creative ways for the Cuban people to communicate with each other and with the outside world, are precisely the types of activities that the United States must vigorously pursue in closed societies. . . .Pro-democracy activities must be undertaken with discretion because the most innocuous acts are ‘crimes’ in totalitarian states. It is outrageous that the AP abandoned all pretense of objectivity and published an overtly biased hit piece against a program that enjoys broad bipartisan support.”

  1. Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Rep. Barbara Lee
Rep. Barbara Lee

Lee (Democrat-CA) said, “I am appalled by recent reports that the U.S. government orchestrated and funded clandestine democracy promotion efforts under the guise of public health and civic programs . . . . As co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, I am particularly concerned by the revelation that HIV-prevention programs were used as a cover. This blatant deception undermines U.S. credibility abroad and endangers U.S. government supported public health programs which have saved millions of lives in recent years around the world.

Lee also commented, “These most recent reports are particularly disturbing in light of USAID’s [Cuban social media program] fiasco first reported a few months ago. Such misguided and counterproductive programs have no place at USAID and stand to put more U.S. citizen lives at risk. Instead of this covert approach to democracy promotion; it’s long past time for American and Cuban officials to make a serious commitment to enter into open

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[1]  The foreignassistance.gov website reports that these are Appropriations for all agencies, including USAID. An USAID website says that $55.0 million was appropriated for all agencies’ Cuba programs for FY 2009-2011 and that USAID was responsible for $31.0 of those funds.

[2] The foreignassistance.gov website reports that USAID received all of the Obligated funds for these years.

[3] The foreignassistance.gov website reports that USAID spent all of the Spent funds for these years.

[4] Post, U.S. Secret Cuba Social Media Program Raises Questions about the Validity of Criticisms of Cuba by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (April 4, 2014); Post, U.S. Senate Hearing Discusses USAID’s Social Media Program for Cuba (April 9, 2014); Re-post of the Latin American Working Group, What Is Wrong with the White House’s Plan for Democracy in Cuba (April 9, 2014).

Yet Another USAID Effort To Promote Regime Change in Cuba

On August 4th, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had funded and implemented a program in 2010-2012 to attract young Cubans for purported civic programs on the island with the real purpose of recruiting them to anti-government activism.

We will look at the AP’s account of this program, and subsequent posts will examine reactions to this account from the U.S. government and others.

According to the AP, USAID through a private contractor, Creative Associates International,[1] recruited nearly a dozen young people from Costa Rica, Peru and Venezuela to go to Cuba as purported tourists. Once there, they conducted a HIV workshop and visited Cuban universities. Their mission, says the AP, was “to recruit [young Cubans] with the long-term goal of turning them against their government.”

The purported tourist who organized the HIV workshop said in a report that it was “the perfect excuse” for the treatment of “the underlying theme” of generating “a network of volunteers for social transformation.”

After visiting two universities in two cities, the purported tourists identified a “target group” of students they thought both opposed the government and had organizational skills.” Their report about these visits “describe the students and their facilities in great detail, noting complaints and fairness issues that might be exploited. Potential recruits were listed by name, and then profiled, their leadership qualities assessed in a spreadsheet.” This report also described “the political culture of the university, including the role of the Union of Communist Youth, and . . . student gripes.” The “students were constantly criticizing the regime,” which, the trip report said, “assures us of having beneficiaries with a clear mind as to the objectives that we are pursuing.”

In a week’s prior training in Costa Rica, Creative Associates International told the purported tourists not to mention the company in Cuba and to keep calm if they were interrogated by Cuban officials. Their written instructions stated, “Although there is never total certainty, trust that the authorities will not try to harm you physically, only frighten you. Remember that the Cuban government prefers to avoid negative media reports abroad, so a beaten foreigner is not convenient for them.” Creative Associates provided the young people with a set of security codes for communicating with the company, but instructed not to use encrypted flash drives stamped conspicuously with the word “IronKey” and to bring personal photos and information in their laptop computers.

After there were indications that the Cuban authorities were at least suspicious about these activities, Creative Associates cancelled the purported tourists’ visits and instead decided to recruit some of the Cuban contacts to obtain Cuban exit permits so that they could go to another country for training, to pay other Cuban “beneficiaries” on the island to run the programs and to have “mules” bring the necessary cash to the island. This approach, however, was not successful.

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[1] Creative Associates also was the private contractor for USAID’s social media program for Cuba that was discussed in a prior post, a re-posting from the Latin American Working Group and another post about a Senate hearing regarding that program.

U.S. Hijacker of Airliner to Cuba Is Sentenced to 20 Years in U.S. Prison

William Potts
William Potts

On July 17, 2014, a federal district court in Miami, Florida sentenced William Potts to 20 years in U.S. prison for his hijacking an airliner to Cuba in 1984. Potts will have the opportunity to seek parole after serving seven years. This sentence was based on his guilty plea to the hijacking charge.

The main sentencing issue was whether and how to give Potts credit for the 13 years he spent in a Cuban prison on the same charge. His attorney urged the court to impose a sentence of 15 years with an opportunity to seek parole in five years. The lawyer said, “We’re a country of laws, but it comes to the point where you have to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

An assistant U.S. attorney recommended the sentence of 20 years with an opportunity to seek parole after seven years and thereby informally giving Potts credit for the 13 years in Cuban prison.

The judge said under U.S. law the court was not authorized to give direct credit for the time in the Cuban prison.

Potts has filed a notice of appeal of this sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

The Potts case was mentioned in a prior post about the stupidity and cowardice of the U.S. in continuing to designate Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. State Department’s Report on International Religious Freedom in 2013

USDeptStateseal

On July 28, 2014, the U.S. State Department released its annual report on religious freedom around the world.[1]

 Secretary of State Kerry’s Comments

Announcing the release of the report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said although the U.S. was “obviously far from perfect,” it was important for the U.S. to treasure freedom of religion as “a universal value. . . . The freedom to profess and practice one’s faith is the birthright of every human being . . . [and] are properly recognized under international law. The promotion of international religious freedom is a priority for President Obama and it is a priority for me as Secretary of State.” In short, “religious freedom remains an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement.”

Executive Summary of the Report

The world had the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory. In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs. Out of fear or by force, entire neighborhoods are emptying of residents. Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map.” In conflict zones (Syria, Central African Republic and Burma), this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm.

All around the world, individuals were subjected to discrimination, violence and abuse, perpetrated and sanctioned violence for simply exercising their faith, identifying with a certain religion, or choosing not to believe in a higher deity at all. Countries where this was a significant problem were Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Eritrea. Throughout Europe, the historical stain of anti-Semitism continued to be a fact of life.

Governments repressed religious freedom. Governments from all regions subjected members of religious groups to repressive policies, discriminatory laws, disenfranchisement, and discriminatory application of laws. These governmental actions not only infringed on freedom of religion themselves, but they also often created a permissive environment for broader human rights abuses. Restrictive policies included laws criminalizing religious activities and expression, prohibitions on conversion or proselytizing, blasphemy laws, and stringent registration requirements or discriminatory application of registration requirements for religious organizations. This was especially true in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, China, Cuba, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Burma, Russia and Bahrain.

Governments engaged in discrimination, impunity and displacement of religious minorities. When governments choose not to combat discrimination on the basis of religion and intolerance, it breeds an environment in which intolerant and violent groups are emboldened, even to the point of physically attacking individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs. Governments in these countries failed to protect vulnerable communities and many religious minority communities were disproportionately affected, resulting in a large number of refugees and internally displaced persons. This was especially true in Syria, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India and Nigeria. Rising anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in the following countries of Europe demonstrated that intolerance is not limited to countries in active conflict:Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and United Kingdom.

Religious minority communities were disproportionately affected by violence, discrimination and harassment. In many regions of the world, religious intolerance was linked to civil and economic strife and resulted in mass migration of members of religious minority communities throughout the year. In some of these areas, the outward migration of certain communities has the potential to permanently change the demographics of entire regions.

“Countries of Particular Concern”

Pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State designated the following countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC): Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Such countries “engage in or tolerate particularly severe violations of religious freedom” or “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, abduction or clandestine detention of persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons based on religion.”

Turkmenistan, which is new to this State Department list, is the only one of eight countries recommended for such designation by the latest report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The others so recommended by the Commission are Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam.

Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom

Simultaneously with this report’s release, the Obama administration announced the nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein as the next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Rabbi Saperstein, a reform rabbi and lawyer known for his work in Washington to advance religious freedom, would be the first non-Christian to lead the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, if confirmed by the Senate.

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[1] This post is based upon the International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 (July 28, 2014); Secretary Kerry, Remarks at Rollout of the 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom (July 28, 2014); Assistant Secretary Malinowski, Remarks on the Release of the 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom (July 28, 2014); Department of State, Fact Sheet: 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom (July 28, 2014). Earlier posts covered the international law regarding religious freedom and the State Department’s reports on the subject for 2011 and 2012.

U.S.’ Latest Assessment of Cuba’s Record on Human Trafficking

As mentioned in a prior post about the recent U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Annual Report 2014, the Department gave Cuba the worst ranking (Tier 3). This post examines that assessment (Report at 148-50).

Positive Aspects of Cuban Record on Trafficking

Even though the Report reached an overall negative evaluation of Cuba’s record on this subject, a close examination of the Report uncovers many positive comments about that record.

First, the Report admits that on July 20, 2013, Cuba acceded to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, a key multilateral treaty on the subject.[1]

The Report conceded that Cuba prohibits some forms of human trafficking through the following laws: Article 299.1 (pederasty with violence); Article 300.1 (lascivious abuse); Article 302 (procuring and trafficking in persons); Article 303 (sexual assault); Article 310.1 (corruption of minors for sexual purposes); Article 312.1 (corruption of minors for begging); and Article 316.1 (sale and trafficking of a child under 16).

The Report also acknowledges that other parts of the Cuban penal code cover sex trafficking, but then engages in a microscopic criticism of that code because it supposedly does not meet what the U.S. regards as the ideal set of such laws.[2]

Moreover, the Report states that the Cuban government has advised the U.S. that Cuba “intends to amend its criminal code to ensure that it is in conformity with the requirements of the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.” This will be a part of the process “of generally revising its criminal code.” Presumably those forthcoming amendments should satisfy at least some, if not all, of the detailed U.S. criticisms.

The Report says, “For the first time, [in October 2013] the [Cuban] government presented official data on investigations and prosecutions of sex trafficking offenses and convictions of sex trafficking offenders. In 2012, the year covered by . . .[that] official Cuban report, the government reported 10 prosecutions and corresponding convictions of sex traffickers. At least six of the convictions involved nine child sex trafficking victims within Cuba, including the facilitation of child sex tourism in Cuba. The average sentence was nine years’ imprisonment. The government reported that a government employee (a teacher) was investigated, prosecuted, and convicted of a sex trafficking offense. There were no reported forced labor prosecutions or convictions.”

“Victims under 18,” says the U.S. Report, “were clearly identified by the Cuban government in 2012 as trafficking victims, and the perpetrators of these crimes were punished more severely in some cases when the victim was younger than 16.”

The Report continues, Cuban “child protection specialists reportedly provided training to police academy students. Students at the Ministry of Interior academy and police who were assigned to tourist centers reportedly received specific anti-trafficking training. The government reported that employees of the Ministries of Tourism and Education received training to spot indicators of trafficking, particularly among children engaged in commercial sex. The government demonstrated its willingness to cooperate with other governments on investigations of possible traffickers.”

Another concession in the Report was its acknowledging that “the Federation of Cuban Women, a government entity that also receives funding from international organizations, operates 173 Guidance Centers for Women and Families nationwide and reported that these centers provided assistance to 2,480 women and families harmed by violence, including victims of trafficking. These centers assisted the women from their initial contact with law enforcement through prosecution of the offenders. Social workers at the Guidance Centers provided services for victims of trafficking and other crimes such as psychological treatment, health care, skills training, and assistance in finding employment. The four adult trafficking victims identified by the Cuban government reportedly received services at these Guidance Centers.”

Cuban “authorities reported that the Ministry of Education identified other sex trafficking cases while addressing school truancy incidents.”

“The [Cuban] government made efforts to protect victims during the reporting period. Authorities reported that they identified nine child sex trafficking victims and four adult sex trafficking victims linked to the 2012 convictions; authorities reported no identified labor trafficking victims or male victims. Though the government had systems in place to identify and assist a broader group of vulnerable women and children, including trafficking victims, the government did not share any documentation of trafficking-specific procedures to guide officials in proactively identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable groups and referring them to available services.”

“The [Cuban] police encouraged child trafficking victims under the age of 17 to assist in prosecutions of traffickers by operating three facilities where law enforcement and social workers worked together to support the collection of testimony and the treatment of sexually and physically abused children. These victim-centered facilities gathered children’s testimony though psychologist- led videotaped interviewing, usually removing the need for children to appear in court. In addition to collecting testimony, government social workers developed a specific plan for the provision of follow-on services. The facilities assisted the nine identified child trafficking victims and reportedly referred them to longer term psychological care, shelter, and other services as needed.”

“The [Cuban] government asserted that none of the identified victims were [sic] punished, and authorities reported having policies that ensured identified victims were not punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. There were no reports of foreign trafficking victims in Cuba.”

The Cuban government also “launched a media campaign to educate the Cuban public about trafficking and publicized its anti- trafficking services.” More specifically, according to the U.S. Report, Cuban “state media produced newspaper articles and television and radio programs to raise public awareness about trafficking. Senior public officials, including the Minister of Justice, publicly raised the problem of trafficking. The government maintained an Office of Security and Protection within the Ministry of Tourism charged with monitoring Cuba’s image as a tourism destination and combating sex tourism.”

Negative Aspects of Cuba’s Record

According to the Report, “Cuba is a source country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking . . . . Child prostitution and child sex tourism occur within Cuba. Cuban authorities report that young people from ages 13 to 20 are most vulnerable to human trafficking in Cuba. Cuban citizens have been subjected to forced prostitution outside of Cuba.”

In addition, the Report addresses the issue of whether or not Cuba engages in forced labor, and an objective reading of that portion of the Report leads to the conclusion that there is no proof of such a practice. The Report asserts that “Cuba is a source country for adults and children subjected to . . . possibly forced labor.” There have been “allegations of coerced labor with Cuban government work missions abroad; the Cuban government denies these allegations. Some Cubans participating in the work missions have stated that the postings are voluntary, and positions are well paid compared to jobs within Cuba. Others have claimed that Cuban authorities have coerced them, including by withholding their passports and restricting their movement. Some medical professionals participating in the missions have been able to take advantage of U.S. visas or immigration benefits, applying for those benefits and arriving in the United States in possession of their passports—an indication that at least some medical professionals retain possession of their passports. Reports of coercion by Cuban authorities in this program do not appear to reflect a uniform government policy of coercion; however, information is lacking. The government arranges for high school students in rural areas to harvest crops, but claims that this work is not coerced.” (Emphases added.)

The scope of trafficking involving Cuban citizens is difficult to verify because of sparse independent reporting . . . .”

As previously mentioned, the Report criticizes Cuba for not having a comprehensive set of laws on the subject. The Report says that although the “Government of Cuba prosecuted and convicted sex trafficking cases, . . . its overall effort was hampered by the absence of a comprehensive legal framework that criminalizes all forms of human trafficking.” The same point was put this way: the “government has yet to establish a legal and policy framework prohibiting all forms of human trafficking and providing explicit victim protections.”

“The government did not operate any shelters or services specifically for adult trafficking victims.”

“The government did not report the existence of an established anti-trafficking task force or structured monitoring mechanism.”

The Report concludes that the “Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking 3] and is not making significant efforts [4] to do so.” The italicized phrases have complex statutory definitions, but the U.S. Report did not say what specific elements of these definitions allegedly were not satisfied, and I will not attempt to identify those elements based upon the rest of the Report.

U.S. Recommendations for Cuba

The U.S. Report made the following recommendations for Cuba:

  • “Revise existing anti-trafficking laws to incorporate a definition of trafficking that is consistent with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; adopt a definition of a minor for the purposes of human trafficking consistent with the Protocol (under 18 years),” but Cuba, as previously noted, already has said it would be doing so this year.
  • “[C]ontinue and strengthen efforts, in partnership with international organizations, to provide specialized training for police, labor inspectors, social workers, and child protection specialists in identifying and protecting victims of sex trafficking and forced labor, including by having in place clear written policies and procedures to guide officials in the identification of trafficking victims, regardless of age or gender, and their referral to appropriate services;” but as the first word of this recommendation admits, Cuba already is doing most, if not all, of these activities according to the U.S. Report.
  • “[A]dopt policies that provide trafficking-specific, specialized assistance for male and female trafficking victims, including measures to ensure identified sex and labor trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor;”
  • “[E]nact and implement policies to ensure no use of coercion in Cuban work-abroad missions,” but the Report had admitted that Cuba denies that it uses coercion;
  • “[P]rovide specialized training for managers of work-abroad missions in identifying and protecting victims of forced labor;”
  • “[C]riminally prosecute both sex trafficking and forced labor; and
  • “C]ontinue funding and expand the victim-centered practices of three government facilities for collection of testimony of young children.

Cuba’s Reaction

On June 20th the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the above U.S. assessment. It said the U.S. ignored “the recognition and prestige of our country for their outstanding role in child protection performance, youth and women.”

The Cuban statement noted that Cuba had not requested the U.S. assessment or needed recommendations from the U.S., which was “one of the countries with the greatest problems of trafficking of children and women in the world.” The U.S. “has no moral [right] to rate Cuba, nor to suggest [a] plan of any kind, when it is estimated that the number of U.S. citizens who are trafficked within the country is close to 200,000, where labor exploitation is . . . widespread . . ., where 85% of the [U.S.} legal process . . . [on] this topic are cases of sexual exploitation, and where more than 300 thousand children, [plus] the million who leave their homes, are subject to any form of exploitation.”

“The Government of Cuba categorically rejects as unfounded the [U.S.] unilateral exercise that offends our people. Inclusion [of Cuba] on this list [is] totally politically motivated, as is the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of international terrorism.” The U.S. Tier 3 designation of Cuba “is aimed to justify the policy of blockade” and “financial sanctions, [which] the Government of the United States increasingly intensifies, causing severe damages to our children, youth, women and all our people.”

Conclusion

Cuba’s statement correctly and legitimately points out that it had never requested the U.S. to assess Cuba’s record on this subject or to make recommendations to Cuba.

Instead, Cuba as a member of the U.N. and its Human Rights Council and as a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol implicitly, if not explicitly, has consented to such assessments and recommendations from the Council’s Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children, whose mandate includes promoting “the prevention of trafficking in persons in all its forms and the adoption of measures to uphold and protect the human rights of victims; . . . [and making] recommendations on practical solutions with regard to the implementation of the rights relevant to the mandate, including by the identification of concrete areas and means for international cooperation to tackle the issue of trafficking in persons. . . .”

One of the methods for implementation this mandate is for the Special Rapporteur to undertake “country visits in order to study the situation in situ and formulate recommendations to prevent and or combat trafficking and protect the human rights of its victims in specific countries.” Such a visit to Cuba has not yet happened, but it could be done and provide the evaluator with actual experience on the island with the cooperation of the Cuban government, which the U.S. Department of State, of course, did not have.

In any event, I do not have information sufficient to confirm or deny the U.S. assessment of Cuba on human trafficking or Cuba’s rejection of same, but the previously mentioned “unpacking” of the U.S. Report itself leads this reader to conclude that the overall worst rating for Cuba is not justified. Perhaps the U.S. authorizing statute for this report and Cuba’s not yet having amended its criminal code to comply with the UN TIP Protocol meant the State Department was legally unable to give Cuba a different ranking.

Accepting everything said about Cuba in the Report and assuming the State Department legally was unable to give Cuba a higher ranking, it would have been much more productive, in my opinion, for the Report to have said something like the following:

  • The U.S. applauds Cuba for making significant progress on combatting human traffic in 2013. It acceded to the UN TIP Protocol and is in the process of determining how to revise its criminal code to comply with that Protocol. It has prosecuted individuals for violations of its existing laws and has established centers to care for victims of trafficking. It has issued a public report about these prosecutions, has aided and protected victims of these crimes, provided appropriate training to various Cubans to help them identify such situations and conducted media campaigns to educate the public about these matters.
  • The U.S. regrets that U.S. laws governing this Report require this year’s Tier 3 ranking for Cuba, but we anticipate and hope that this will be the last such ranking for the proud Cuban government and people.
  • Because Cuba already is well on the way to improving its laws and practices regarding human trafficking, there is no need for the U.S. to be making recommendations on this subject to Cuba. If, however, Cuba would like any U.S. assistance on this important subject, the U.S. would be glad to respond.

Yes, State Department, such a statement would have been more diplomatic too.

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[1] UN TIP Protocol or PROTOCOL TO PREVENT, SUPPRESS AND PUNISH TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS, ESPECIALLY WOMEN AND CHILDREN, SUPPLEMENTING THE UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION AGAINST TRANSNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME. This Protocol was adopted because of the conviction that “supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime with an international instrument for the prevention, suppression and punishment of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, will be useful in preventing and combating that crime.” There are now 159 states parties, including the U.S. and Cuba, the latter of which acceded with a declaration that, “in accordance with the provisions of Article 15, paragraph 3 of the Protocol, it does not consider itself bound by the provisions of paragraph 2 of that Article” that requires that “[a]ny dispute between two or more States Parties concerning the interpretation or application of this Protocol that cannot be settled through negotiation within a reasonable time shall . . . [under certain conditions] be submitted to arbitration [or] the International Court of Justice.”

[2] The Report says the Cuban “definition of sex trafficking appears to conflate sex trafficking with prostitution and pimping. The law criminalizes adult sex trafficking achieved through force, coercion, or abuse of power or a position of vulnerability, although the use of such means is considered an aggravating factor (to a crime of inducing or benefitting from prostitution), not an integral part of the crime. It does not explicitly include the use of fraud and physical force within the list of aggravating factors that make coercion of prostitution a crime. The provision addressing corruption of minors encompasses many of the forms of child sex trafficking, but its definition of a minor as a child under 16 years old is inconsistent with the definition under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, which defines a child as any person under the age of 18; this means 16- and 17-year-olds engaged in prostitution for the benefit of a third party would not necessarily be identified as trafficking victims. Although anyone inducing children between the ages of 16 and 18 to engage in prostitution would not be identified as traffickers under Cuban law, forced prostitution is illegal irrespective of age of the victim, and the government has prosecuted individuals benefitting from the prostitution of children.” In addition, the U.S. says,” Both adult and child sex trafficking provisions fail explicitly to criminalize recruitment, transport, and receipt of persons for these purposes.”

[3] The above statutory phrase means: (1)“The government of the country should prohibit severe forms of trafficking in persons and punish acts of such trafficking.” (2)“For the knowing commission of any act of sex trafficking involving force, fraud, coercion, or in which the victim of sex trafficking is a child incapable of giving meaningful consent, or of trafficking which includes rape or kidnapping or which causes a death, the government of the country should prescribe punishment commensurate with that for grave crimes, such as forcible sexual assault.” (3) “For the knowing commission of any act of a severe form of trafficking in persons, the government of the country should prescribe punishment that is sufficiently stringent to deter and that adequately reflects the heinous nature of the offense.” (4) “The government of the country should make serious and sustained efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons.”

[4] The above phrase apparently is a short-hand reference to the statutory phrase–“serious and sustained efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons”—which has its own statutory definition.