Conferences About Continued U.S.-Cuba Cooperation on Various Issues 

This past week there have been two gatherings in Washington, D.C. focused on promoting U.S.-Cuba collaboration on various projects.

Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation[1]

 The first conference was on June 4, Advancing Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation in Cuba, that was organized by the Center for International Policy and the Ocean Doctor organizations. It explored opportunities for small-scale, collaborative initiatives to successfully advance environmental sustainability and historic preservation in Cuba and celebrated the release of the two organizations’ report, “A Century of Unsustainable Tourism in the Caribbean: Lessons Learned and Opportunities for Cuba.”

This gathering emphasized that Cuba has developed differently from any other country in the Caribbean. Many of its natural ecosystems remain remarkably healthy, and the country’s cultural heritage remains authentic and largely intact. The efforts to normalize relations between Cuba and the U.S. by President Obama fueled dramatic growth in tourism and interest in investment on the island, sparking concern that Cuba now faced the same scale of pressures that have resulted in environmental and heritage degradation throughout the Caribbean. With the advent of the Trump presidency and chilling of relations, some of these pressures have waned, but likely only temporarily.

One of the participants was Cuba’s Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, who underscored the actions of cooperation that continue to develop today between various U.S. governmental agencies and organizations and their Cuban counterparts. He  also highlighted the validity of the bilateral instruments signed between Cuba and the United States during the Obama Administration.

Among the other speakers were Salih Booker, Executive Director, Center for International Policy; Dr. David E. Guggenheim, President of Ocean Doctor; Robert Muse, Lawyer specialized in Cuban affairs; Dr. Brain M. Boom, Vice President for Conservation Strategy at New York Botanic Garden; Norma Barbacci; plus preservation consultants.

 Agricultural Trade Relations Between the Two Countries[2]

On June 7  Engage Cuba, a bipartisan advocate for U.S.-Cuba normalization, and the Washington, D.C. office of the McDermott Will & Emery law firm, sponsored a conference,  “Fostering bilateral agricultural and economic capabilities.”

The roundtable was composed of Senator John Boozman (Rep., AR.) Rep. Rick Crawford (Rep., AR). Rep. Thomas Emmer (Rep., MN) and Rep. Roger Marshall (Rep., KS) with Cuban Ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, and moderated by James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, a  bipartisan  advocate for U.S.-Cuba normalization.

The event emphasized the necessity to lift the economic, financial and trade embargo imposed on the Island for more than 55 years and to stress the importance of reversing the failed policy of the United States towards Cuba.

Senator Boozman recalled that nowadays American farmers face a situation in which almost all the prices for their products are low, and that there is a market in Cuba, which can be provided with American products, given the Island’s high import of commodities. However, he said, “American agricultural producers face significant commercial barriers to trade with Cuba. Lifting the ban on private banks and companies from offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba will help level the playing field for our farmers while exposing Cubans to American values and ideals.”

“The U.S.-Cuba relationship is critical to our economy.” stated Congressman Emmer, the Chair of the bipartisan House Cuba Working Group, as he also reaffirmed his commitment to work for the lifting of the embargo and “to break through for a new chapter in our two nations’ history.” Rep. Emmer added, “The time to begin renewing our relationship with our neighbors just 90 miles of the Florida coast is now. With American farmers suffering some of the lowest commodity prices we have ever seen, Congress has an opportunity to take action and make real change. The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, sponsored by Rep. Crawford, would lift financing restrictions imposed by the embargo on agriculture exports. The result would be relief for our farmers and a first step toward redefining the American-Cuban relationship. While my bill, the Cuba Trade Act, accomplishes the ultimate goal or lifting the embargo completely, passing Rep. Crawford’s bill can, and should, happen immediately,” He also pointed out how the failed U.S. policy towards the Island has had a negative impact on the Cuban and U.S. peoples.

Representative Crawford stated, “For years the United States has had an estranged relationship with Cuba and for years we’ve seen no reversal in the tactics used by Cuba’s oppressive government. Trade with Cuba is a vessel that will create change in Cuba and bring economic opportunity to American farmers. Most Americans agree that it’s time to lift the embargo on Cuba and Congress needs to meet that desire by working to pass my bill, H.R. 525 and others like it.”

Representative Marshall said, “With an open market to Cuba, Kansas could top $55 million in additional sales. While we are renegotiating our trade deals, we have a $2 billion market untouched right under our nose. It is time to throw support behind this mutually beneficial economic opportunity. It is through leadership in Congress, and discussions like this roundtable that we will begin to make these lasting changes.”

The Cuban Ambassador thanked the Senator and Congressmen for their leadership in this topic, highlighted that Cuba is an ideal market for American products and underscored the existing potential for agricultural and trade relations between both countries. He also recalled that Cuba and the United States signed two memoranda of understanding in the field of agriculture in 2016 and 2017, which are still valid.

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

[1] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Experts debate about Cuba-US collaboration in topics such as environmental sustainability and historic preservation (June 6, 2018); Ocean Doctor, Advancing Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation in Cuba (June 4, 2018).

[2]  Cuba Foreign Ministry, U.S. Legislators advocate for trade relations with Cuba, Granma (June 8, 2018); Rep. Marshall: AR, MN, KS Lead Trade Talks with Cuba Ambassador (June 8, 2018).

 

Argument Between Wall Street Journal and Cuba’s Ambassador to U.S.

The Wall Street Journal and the Cuban Ambassador to the U.S. are engaged in an argument that started with the newspaper’s April 22 editorial.

The Editorial[1]

 “Eighty-six-year-old Raúl Castro grabbed headlines last week when he ceded the title of president to 58-year-old civilian Miguel Diáz-Canel. Too bad this change at the top is nominal when it comes to freedom for the Cuban people.”

“Mr. Diáz-Canel is . . .[not] an independent thinker. Cubans have every reason to believe him when he says, as he did in his acceptance speech, that he is committed to preserving a police state. If Mr. Diáz-Canel wants to keep his job and privileges, human rights won’t be on his agenda.”

“Raúl still leads the Communist Party and has kept the two most powerful regime positions under his control. Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, his son, runs counterintelligence for the Interior Ministry that controls the secret police. Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, Raúl’s former son-in-law, is top dog at GAESA, the military’s holding company that owns the tourism industry, the shipping company, the airline, construction companies, auto imports and sales, the real-estate business, the banks and control of container traffic at the Port of Mariel. Ramiro Valdés, a regime enforcer, still sits on the Council of State, Cuba’s highest government body.”

. . . .

“Now Havana’s crime family has again run out of other peoples’ money. Its largest sources of hard currency are the doctors and nurses who live in poverty while Cuba “rents” them to countries around the world. Yet even this multibillion-dollar human trafficking isn’t enough to support the broken Cuban economy.”

“President Trump has reined in some of Barack Obama’s executive orders that made it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. But the regime’s bigger problem is that investors who kick the tires on the Castro jalopy increasingly walk away. There are plenty of opportunities in emerging markets these days, and the smart money doesn’t want gangsters for partners.”

“Promises of greater economic freedom for Cubans have never materialized. Small businesses can operate as long as they are subsistence operations. But they can’t hire and the regime has again cracked down on permitting lest it lose control. Cuba’s poverty suggests something has to change. But liberalization is not in the interests of the Castro family or the military. And they’re still in charge.”

The Cuban Ambassador’s Response[2]

On May 6 Cuban Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez responded to this editorial with the following letter to the Journal.

“The U.S. corporate press has always been predictable in its articles on Cuba and even more so when it comes to its editorials. Newspapers such as yours were against Cubans being free from Spanish power in the 19th century. Later on, they commended local corrupt politicians who supported the invasion—first militarily and then economically by American companies during the first half of the 20th century. Finally, those newspapers relentlessly demonized the Cuban Revolution since 1959.”

“However, I was caught off guard by the sordidness of the language used by your editorial board when referring to my country. It is the typical exercise of those who are left without arguments. There is still a financial, economic and commercial embargo imposed on Cuba intended to starve our population into submission. However, the information blockade has decreased. Americans massively travel to Cuba and 75% of them support a better relationship with our country.”

“Your renewed efforts to promote the business of the ‘dissidence’ in Cuba will not have the slightest success. History is wise and has forgotten (and will forget) the names of the annexationists of Cuban origins, but any educated human being who inhabits the earth today will be able to tell you about Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, José Martí, Antonio Maceo, Julio Antonio Mella, Ernesto Guevara and Fidel Castro; those are the names of the pro-independence figures.”

“To maintain a part of the audience you still have, before criticizing Cuba again, or any other Latin American or Caribbean country for that matter, please start by looking at yourselves in the mirror.”

Conclusion

Although I believe that U.S. policies regarding Cuba are heading the wrong direction in the Trump Administration and deplore its abandonment of many (but not all) aspects of  the Obama Administration’s opening of relations with Cuba and although I have met and respect the Cuban Ambassador, this exchange or argument is unsatisfying.[3]

The Journal, given its general support of free markets and capitalism, should have (a) encouraged the Cuban government to engage in further efforts to promote the expansion of its private sector of bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants and other ventures and (b) criticized some of the Trump Administration’s policies that discourage such Cuban expansion of free enterprise and markets.

Such efforts enable Cubans to increase their financial circumstances and offer better-paying jobs to other Cubans and thereby provide the Cuban economy with desperately needed boosts. Cuba’s efforts last year to restrict such expansion were misguided out of fears of changes.

This would have forced the Cuban Ambassador into the difficult position of trying to justify the regime’s clamp-down last year of expansion of the private sector.  The Ambassador in this hypothetical, however, could have argued that the Cuban Government needed to be cautious on these issues because of illegitimate U.S. efforts, overtly and covertly over many years, to promote regime change in Cuba.

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

[1] Editorial, Cuba Gets a Castro Convertible, W.S.J. (April 22, 2018).

[2] Letter to Editor, Cabañas to W.S. J., W.S.J. (May 6, 2018).

[3] See List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.