U.S. and Cuba Continue To Implement Normalization of Relations

President Obama in the final days of his presidency continues to press forward with additional implementation of the policy of normalization of relations with Cuba. The January 12 U.S.-Cuba agreement regarding migration associated with the U.S. ending two immigration benefits for Cubans was discussed in an earlier post.

Here we will discuss (a) the recent joint meeting regarding trafficking in persons; (b) another joint meeting regarding the two countries’ claims against each other; and (c) a new U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Recent comments by Cuban leaders about President-elect Trump also will be discussed.

Meeting Regarding Trafficking in Persons

 On January 12 and 13 the two countries met in Washington, D.C. The Cuban delegation “outlined the measures that are being implemented in [Cuba] to prevent and address this scourge, as well as the support and assistance provided to the victims, as part of the “zero tolerance” policy implemented by Cuba in any form of trafficking in persons and other crimes related to sexual exploitation, labor, among others.”[1]

Meeting Regarding Claims

On January 12 the U.S. State Department announced that the two countries were meeting in Havana that day for the third government-to-government meeting on claims. The meeting was to build upon their previous discussions for an exchange of views on technical details and methodologies regarding outstanding claims.[2]

Outstanding U.S. claims include claims of U.S. nationals for expropriated property on the island in the early years of the Cuban Revolution that were certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, now with interest totaling $8 billion; claims related to unsatisfied U.S. court default judgments against Cuba; and claims held by the U.S. Government. The U.S. continues to view the resolution of these claims as a top priority.

Outstanding Cuban claims include those of the Cuban people for human and economic damages, as reflected in the default judgments issued by the Provincial People’s Court of Havana in 1999 and 2000 against the U.S. As stated in a prior post, these judgments were for $64 billion on behalf of eight Cuban social and mass organizations plus $54 billion on behalf of the Cuban Government for alleged U.S. efforts to subvert that government. (These were default judgments in that the U.S. did not appear or contest these lawsuits in Cuban courts.)

In addition, Cuba repeatedly has asserted at the U.N. General Assembly its damage claims against the U.S. for the latter’s embargo. Last November these alleged damages totaled $ 125 billion.

The representatives of both governments reiterated the importance and usefulness of continuing these exchanges.

As usual, the governments’ public announcements about these closed-door sessions are not illuminating. Prior posts have discussed some of these claims and proposed ways to resolve them, primarily by an international arbitration proceeding at the Permanent Court for Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands.[3]

Agreement Regarding Law Enforcement

On January 16, in Havana the MOU was signed by Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and Vice Adm. Julio Cesar Gandarilla, the newly appointed Cuban interior minister. It provides for the two countries “to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and other international criminal activities.”[4]

“The arrangement will establish a framework for strengthening our partnership on counternarcotics, counterterrorism, legal cooperation, and money laundering, including technical exchanges that contribute to a strong U.S.-Cuba law enforcement relationship,” the White House statement said. “The arrangement will establish a framework for strengthening our partnership on counternarcotics, counterterrorism, legal cooperation, and money laundering, including technical exchanges that contribute to a strong U.S.-Cuba law enforcement relationship,” the White House statement said.

The U.S. National Security Council stated, “The goals of the President’s Cuba policy have been simple: to help the Cuban people achieve a better future for themselves and to advance the interests of the United States. While significant differences between our governments continue, the progress of the last two years reminds the world of what is possible when we are defined not by the past but by the future we can build together.”

Granma from Havana reported that the agreement covered “the prevention and combating of terrorist acts; drug trafficking; crimes committed through the use of information and communication technologies, and cyber security issues of mutual interest; trafficking in persons; migrant smuggling; flora and fauna trafficking; money laundering; the falsification of identity and travel documents; contraband, including firearms, their parts, components, ammunition, explosives, cash and monetary instruments.”

Cuban Officials’ Recent Comments About President-elect Trump[5]

The Guardian from London reports that in a recent interview Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat with respect to the U.S., said it is “‘too early” to predict which path the new administration will follow. “There are . . . [some] functionaries, businessmen [other than anti-normalization Cuban-Americans whom] Trump has named, including in government roles, who are in favor of business with Cuba, people who think that the US will benefit from cooperation with Cuba, on issues linked to the national security of the US.” Cuban officials say that they plan to wait for action rather than words because Trump has repeatedly flip-flopped on the issue of rapprochement – and also put his business interests above his country’s laws.

Nevertheless Vidal warned, “Aggression, pressure, conditions, impositions do not work with Cuba. This is not the way to attempt to have even a minimally civilized relationship with Cuba.”

Her analysis was echoed by Ricardo Alarcón, who spent 30 years representing Cuba at the United Nations and another 20 years as president of the country’s National Assembly, before retiring in 2013. He said, “For two years we have been talking to a sophisticated president with an intelligent, skillful discourse. Now we have a gentleman who is capable of saying anything and nobody is sure what he is going to do.”

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[1] Cuban and U.S. delegations discuss combating trafficking in persons, Granma (Jan. 16, 2017).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba to Hold Claims Discussion (Jan. 12, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Third Meeting on Mutual Compensation between Cuba and United States (Jan. 12, 2017).

[3] See generally posts listed in the “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[4] White House, Statement by NSC Spokesperson Ned Price on Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes’ Travel to Cuba (Jan. 16, 2017); U.S. Dep’t of State, United States and Cuba To Sign Law Enforcement Memorandum of Understanding (Jan. 16, 2017); Reuters, Cuba, United States to Fight Terrorism, Drug Trafficking and Other Crimes, N.Y. Times (Jan. 16, 2017); Assoc. Press, US, Cuban Interior Ministry Sign Law-Enforcement Deal, N.Y. Times (Jan. 16, 2017); Cuba and the U.S. sign Memorandum of Understanding to increase cooperation associated with their national security, Granma (Jan. 17, 2017).

[5] Yaffe & Watts, Top diplomatic negotiator in Cuba warns Trump: ‘aggression doesn’t work,’ Guardian (Jan. 17, 2017).

Reactions to New Presidential Policy Directive on U.S.-Cuba Normalization

As replicated in a prior post, on October 14, President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Policy Directive on U.S.-Cuba Normalization.

This Directive, to my knowledge, has no special U.S. legal status and instead is a roadmap for the next administration on the multiple ways the complex U.S. government is implementing such normalization. President Obama in a statement about the Directive said, “This Directive takes a comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to promote engagement with the Cuban government and people, and make our opening to Cuba irreversible. . . . [It] consolidates and builds upon the changes we’ve already made, promotes transparency by being clear about our policy and intentions, and encourages further engagement between our countries and our people.”[1]

Here are comments on some of the key unresolved issues in that process.

  1. Ending the U.S. Embargo of Cuba

 Cuba repeatedly has called for ending the U.S. embargo, and on October 27 it will present its annual resolution condemning the embargo (blockade) to the U.N. General Assembly, which undoubtedly again will overwhelmingly approve the resolution.

The Presidential Directive correctly notes that the Obama Administration repeatedly has asked Congress to end the embargo and states that the U.S. Mission to the United Nations “will participate in discussions regarding the annual Cuban embargo resolution at the [U.N.], as our bilateral relationship continues to develop in a positive trajectory.”[2]

  1. Expanding U.S.-Cuba Trade

The Directive correctly includes a “prosperous and stable Cuba” and expanded U.S.-Cuba trade as parts of its vision for normalization, and the Directive correctly reported that the Obama Administration has adopted regulations relaxing some of the restrictions on U.S. trade with Cuba.[3]

In addition, President Obama’s statement about the Directive noted that on the same day, “The Departments of Treasury and Commerce issued further regulatory changes . . . to continue to facilitate more interaction between the Cuban and American people, including through travel and commercial opportunities, and more access to information.”[4]

According to the two departments’ press release, these new changes will enable “more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contact, and private sector growth.” More specifically, the changes “are intended to expand opportunities for scientific collaboration by authorizing certain transactions related to Cuban-origin pharmaceuticals and joint medical research; improve living conditions for Cubans by expanding existing authorizations for grants and humanitarian-related services; increase people-to-people contact in Cuba by facilitating authorized travel and commerce; facilitate safe travel between the United States and Cuba by authorizing civil aviation safety-related services; and bolster trade and commercial opportunities by expanding and streamlining authorizations relating to trade and commerce.”[5]

There is also “a new authorization that will allow persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide services to Cuba or Cuban nationals related to developing, repairing, maintaining, and enhancing certain Cuban infrastructure in order to directly benefit the Cuban people.” Other new rules permit certain foreign ships carrying certain cargo to travel directly to U.S. ports after docking in Cuba, the export of U.S. pesticides or tractors to Cuba without advance payment in cash and U.S. businesses to enter into binding contracts with Cubans that are contingent on the lifting of the U.S. embargo.

  1. U.S. Promotion of Economic Change in Cuba

The Directive states the U.S. “will not pursue regime change in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the [U.S.] cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people.”

Nevertheless the Directive recognizes as does the Communist Party of Cuba (CPC) that “Due to Cuba’s legal, political, and regulatory constraints, its economy is not generating adequate foreign exchange to purchase U.S. exports that could flow from the easing of the embargo.” Helping to meet this economic problem, both the U.S. and the CPC also recognize, “With an estimated 1 in 4 working Cubans engaged in entrepreneurship, a dynamic, independent private sector is emerging. Expansion of the private sector has increased resources for individual Cubans and created nascent openings for Cuban entrepreneurs to engage with U.S. firms and nongovernmental organizations. We take note of the Cuban government’s limited, but meaningful steps to expand legal protections and opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses, which, if expanded and sustained, will improve the investment climate.” While the Cuban government pursues its economic goals based on its national priorities, we will utilize our expanded cooperation to support further economic reforms by the Cuban government.”[6]

The Directive makes clear that the U.S. seeks and promotes Cuban economic reform that includes “the development of a private sector that provides greater economic opportunities for the Cuban people.”

  1. U.S. Promotion of Human Rights in Cuba

According to the Directive, Cuba continues with “repression of civil and political liberties.” As a result, the U.S. “will utilize engagement to urge Cuba to make demonstrable progress on human rights and religious freedom” and “continue to speak out in support of human rights, including the rights to freedoms of expression, religion, association, and peaceful assembly as we do around the world. Our policy is designed to support Cubans’ ability to exercise their universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. . . . In pursuit of these objectives, we are not seeking to impose regime change on Cuba; we are, instead, promoting values that we support around the world while respecting that it is up to the Cuban people to make their own choices about their future.”

  1. U,S. Democracy Promotion Programs in Cuba

The U.S. through private contractors with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. State Department and other U.S. government agencies surreptitiously has been conducting what the U.S. calls “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba. Cuba rightfully and consistently has objected to such programs.[7]

Nevertheless, the Directive asserts the U.S. “will not pursue regime change in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the [U.S.] cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people.”

“While remaining committed to supporting democratic activists as we do around the world, we will also engage community leaders, bloggers, activists, and other social issue leaders who can contribute to Cuba’s internal dialogue on civic participation. We will continue to pursue engagements with civil society through the U.S. Embassy in Havana and during official [U.S.] Government visits to Cuba.”

“We will pursue democracy programming that is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies around the world.” (Emphasis added.) The State Department will continue to be responsible for “coordination of democracy programs” and “will continue to co-lead efforts with the U.S. Agency for International Development to ensure democracy programming is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies. (Emphasis added.)

The Directive correctly anticipates that “the Cuban government will continue to object to U.S. democracy programs, [and] Radio and TV Marti.” This blog has consistently agreed with the Cubans on this issue because the so-called democracy programs are carried out surreptitiously by the U.S. How can they be promoting democracy if they are undercover? If indeed the U.S. wants to do so transparently, then they should only be done with the knowledge and consent of the Cuban government.

Is the statement that such programs in Cuba are to be “consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies” supposed to be the purported justification for conducting such programs in Cuba secretly from its government?

  1. U.S. Special Immigration Rules for Cubans

Cuba repeatedly has called for the U.S. to end its special immigration benefits to Cubans: (a) the U.S. dry feet/wet feet policy that allows any Cubans who arrive on land at a U.S. point of entry to be admitted into the U.S.; and (b) the U.S. Cuban Medical Professional Parole Policy that allows such Cubans to gain entry to the U.S. as parolees from other countries. Therefore, the Directive correctly anticipates “the Cuban government will continue to object to U.S. migration policies and operations.”

This blog has concurred with Cuba’s objections to these policies.[8]

The Directive correctly recognizes that “significant emigration of working-age Cubans further exacerbates Cuba’s demographic problem of a rapidly aging population.” Yet the Directive fails to discuss either the specific U.S. immigration rules for Cubans themselves or their being one of the causes of this societal and economic problem for the island. This, in my opinion, is a major failing of the Directive.

Instead, the Directive merely states that the DHS “will safeguard the integrity of the U.S. immigration system, to include the facilitation of lawful immigration and ensure protection of refugees. The Secretary of Homeland Security (the United States Government lead for a maritime migration or mass migration) with support from the Secretaries of State and Defense, will address a maritime migration or mass migration pursuant to Executive Orders 12807 and 13276 and consistent with applicable interagency guidance and strategy.”

  1. U.S. Lease of Guantanamo Bay from Cuba

Cuba repeatedly has alleged that the U.S. use of Guantanamo Bay for a naval base is “illegal” and that the U.S. should return this territory to Cuba while the U.S. consistently has rejected such allegations and demands. The Directive maintains this U.S. position; it states, “The [U.S.] Government has no intention to alter the existing lease treaty and other arrangements related to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, which enables the [U.S.] to enhance and preserve regional security.”

This blog has analyzed this dispute, rejected Cuba’s unsupported allegation that the U.S. use of this territory is illegal and suggested that the dispute over Guantanamo be submitted to an international arbitration panel for resolution. A better solution, as this blog also has recommended, would be a renegotiation of the lease with a much larger annual rent to be paid by the U.S. Such a change, in my opinion, would provide Cuba with much-needed foreign exchange to pay its foreign obligations, including the undoubted obligation to pay U.S. nationals for expropriation of property at the start of the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960’s. Returning the territory to Cuba, while it would probably provide an emotional boost to its pride, would which not add to its economy. In the background is the larger geopolitical threat to the U.S. if Russia (or China) and Cuba agree to the installation of Russian (or Chinese) military bases on the island.[9]

  1. Other Issues

Although the Directive is stated to be “comprehensive,” it does not mention at least the following serious unresolved issues that have arisen in the two countries’ discussions since December 17, 2014:

  • Cuba’s claims for over $ 300 billion of alleged damages resulting from the embargo and certain other U.S. actions;
  • Cuba’s claim against U.S.for unpaid rent for Guantanamo Bay, 1960 to date;
  • The U.S. claims for nearly $8 billion (including interest) for property owned by U.S. nationals that was expropriated by the Cuban government in the early days of the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960’s;
  • Mutual return of fugitives from the other’s criminal justice system.[10]

Conclusion

There are many reasons why a supporter of U.S.-Cuba normalization like this blogger should be happy over this Directive. It provides a roadmap for the complex U.S. governmental pursuit of normalization that should be helpful to a new U.S. president who wants to continue that pursuit. Moreover, many of the specifics are laudable, in this blogger’s opinion.

However, the Directive has failed to announce cessation of secretive “democracy promotion” programs for Cuba and special immigration benefits for Cubans, as urged by this blogger and others. In addition, as just noted, the Directive fails to cover some of the serious, unresolved issues between the two countries. All of these points, in this blogger’s opinions, are serious deficiencies.

Cuba immediately responded to this Directive.[11] Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s Director General of the United States, said the Directive “is a significant step in the process towards lifting the blockade and to the improvement of relations between the two countries. We consider it important that the Directive recognizes the independence, sovereignty and self-determination of Cuba, which should continue to be essential in relations between the two countries.” On the other hand, she noted, the Directive “does not hide the [U.S.] purpose of promoting changes in the economic, political and social system of Cuba.”

Yes, as President Obama recently said to the author of an article in The New Yorker, the President and many Americans, including this blogger, believe that changes in Cuban human rights and economy would be beneficial to the Cubans and the hemisphere. So long as the U.S. seeks these objectives above-board and with the knowledge and consent of the Cuban government, both governments and peoples should be pleased.

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 [1] White House, Statement by the President on the Presidential Policy Directive on Cuba (Oct. 14, 2016); Davis, Obama, Cementing New Ties With Cuba, Lifts Limits on Cigars and Rum, N.Y. Times (Oct. 14, 2016).

[2] This blog also repeatedly has pleaded with Congress to end the embargo. (See posts listed in “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[3] This blog has applauded these relaxations of restrictions. (See posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2014-2015,” and “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2015-2016” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[4] Reuters, Obama Eases Restrictions on Cuba, Lifts Limits on Rum and Cigars, N.Y. times (Oct. 14, 2016); Schwartz, U.S. Takes Additional Steps to Ease Restrictions on Trade, Ties with Cuba, W.S.J. (Oct. 14, 2016); Whitefield, Obama moves to make Cuba policies ‘irreversible,’ InCubaToday (Oct. 14, 2016).

[5] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Treasury and Commerce Announce Further Amendments to Cuba Sanctions Regulations (Oct. 14, 2016).

[6] Raúl Castro as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba at its April 2016 Congress bluntly laid out Cuba’s economic problems, including state-owned enterprises’ inefficiencies, and the need to facilitate the growth and prosperity of private-owned businesses. (See Raúl Castro Discusses Socio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba (April 19, 2016).) See also, e.g., Other Signs of Cuban Regime’s Distress Over Economy (April 21, 2016); Cuban Press Offers Positive Articles About the Island’s Private Enterprise Sector (June 1, 2016).

[7] This blog repeatedly has objected to these “democracy promotion” programs and called for any such programs to be conducted with the cooperation of Cuban authorities. (See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.)

[8] See posts listed in “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” and “Cuban Migration to U.S., 2015-2016” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[9] This blog has discussed various issues relating to Guantanamo Bay. (See posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[10] These issues have been discussed in posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” and “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA  and in and in Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives (Feb. 24, 2015).

[11] Ellizalde, Obama presidential directive is a significant step: Josefina Vidal, CubaDebate (Oct. 14, 2016).