State Department’s Announcement of New Sanctions Against Cuba

On April 17, the U.S. announced new sanctions against Cuba. The major change was eliminating the waiver of Title III of the Helms-Burton (LIBERTAD) Act allowing U.S. litigation by U.S. owners of Cuban property that was expropriated by the Cuban government in the early years of the Cuban Revolution. This Act also allows the U.S. to deny or revoke U.S. visas to any person or corporate officer “involved in the confiscation of property or trafficking in confiscated property,” as well as their family members.[1]

State Department’s Announcement of Sanctions[2]

The State Department made the official announcement of this change in remarks to the Press by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the following:

  • “In 1996, Congress passed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as Libertad. Until Title III of that act, United States citizens who had their property confiscated by the Castro regime were given the right to file suit against those who traffic in such properties.”
  • “But those citizens’ opportunities for justice have been put out of reach for more than two decades. For now more than 22 years, every president, every secretary of state has suspended Title III in the hope that doing so would put more pressure on the Cuban regime to transition to democracy.”
  • The “Trump administration recognizes reality. We see clearly that the regime’s repression of its own people and its unrepentant exportation of tyranny in the region has only gotten worse because dictators perceive appeasement as weakness, not strength.”
  • “President Obama’s administration’s game of footsy with the Castros’ junta did not deter the regime from continuing to harass and oppress the heroic Ladies in White, a group of women dedicated to peacefully protesting the regime’s human rights abuses.”
  • “More broadly, the regime continues to deprive its own people of the fundamental freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. Indeed, according to NGO reports, Cuban thugs made more than 2,800 arbitrary arrests in 2018 alone. In the run-up to the country’s recent sham constitutional referendum, one that enshrined the Communist Party as the only legal political party in Cuba, the regime harassed, beat, and detained leaders and – opposition leaders and activists. Three hundred and ten people were arbitrarily detained according to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.”
  • “Cuba’s behavior in the Western Hemisphere undermines the security and stability of countries throughout the region, which directly threatens United States national security interests. The Cuban regime has for years exported its tactics of intimidation, repression, and violence. They’ve exported this to Venezuela in direct support of the former Maduro regime. Cuban military intelligence and state security services today keep Maduro in power.”
  • “Sadly, Cuba’s most prominent export these days is not cigars or rum; it’s oppression. Detente with the regime has failed. Cozying up to Cuban dictators will always be a black mark on this great nation’s long record of defending human rights.”
  • “For these reasons, I’m announcing that the Trump administration will no longer suspend Title III. Effective May 2nd, . . . the right to bring an action under Title III of the Libertad Act will be implemented in full. I have already informed Congress of my decision.”
  • “Implementing Title III in full means a chance at justice for Cuban Americans who have long sought relief for Fidel Castro and his lackeys seizing property without compensation. For the first time, claimants will be able to bring lawsuits against persons trafficking in property that was confiscated by the Cuban regime. Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement.”
  • “In addition to being newly vulnerable to lawsuits, they could be abetting the Cuban regime’s abuses of its own people. Those doing business in Cuba should fully investigate whether they are connected to property stolen in service of a failed communist experiment. I encourage our friends and allies alike to likewise follow our lead and stand with the Cuban people.”
  • “As I said throughout my trip to South America this last week, the Trump administration is committed to helping grow the wave of democracy, good governments, and openness, which is steadily building throughout the entire Western Hemisphere. On my trip last week, I saw these positive changes firsthand, and told our friends and allies that we’re with them. We’re on the side of what’s right and what is just.”
  • “Today we are holding the Cuban Government accountable for seizing American assets. We are helping those whom the regime has robbed get compensation for their rightful property. And we’re advancing human rights and democracy on behalf of the Cuban people.”

Immediately after the Secretary’s remarks, Kimberly  Breier, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, responded to journalists’ questions. Here are her significant responses:

  • “[O]bviously we’ve been in very deep and close contact with our allies in Europe and Canada and around the world as we consulted on this decision over the past several months as the Secretary had been shortening the period of suspension with his previous decisions. I think it’s clear if you look in the macro sense we have broad agreement with our allies in Europe and Canada and around the world on the policy objective, which is to promote democracy in Cuba and to free the Cuban people from the tyranny that they live under.”
  • “We are in broad agreement on this. Where we sometimes disagree is on the best way to achieve that. And I think at the end of the day, you’ll need to speak to the European Union and to our allies as to what response they will have, but I would like to emphasize that European companies that are operating in Cuba will have nothing to worry about if they are not operating on property that was stolen from Americans post-revolution. So I think the vast number of European companies will not have any concerns operating in Cuba.”
  • We “took a decision today based on our laws and our sovereign concerns for the property of American citizens and Europeans will respond as they see fit, and we will continue to work closely with them on this policy and on the policy in Venezuela.”
  • The “decision today is part of the trajectory that started with the Trump Administration’s NSPM-5, which was announced in June of 2017.[3]The objective of that was . . . to support the Cuban people and to deny resources to the regime, and in particular to the security services in Cuba. So this is part of a trajectory. We have since published a Cuba restricted list. We have since amended the restricted list several times, and this is part of the trajectory of the administration trying to ensure that we support the people of Cuba and not the regime of Cuba.”
  • The “Secretary’s decision was about the actions of the Cuban regime; certainly, the actions of the Cuban regime in Venezuela are part of the context of the moment in which we are living. And we are very clear, and . . . the Lima Group, which is a group of 12 countries in the Western Hemisphere, for the very first time this week announced its concern over Cuba’s role in Caracas and made public its concern, and called on the Cuban regime to support the transition in Caracas. So I think it’s a very important moment in our relations in the hemisphere as well.”
  • Over “the past two years building off of NSPM-5 and looking at the various tools that we have to implement the President’s vision for how we would conduct this policy. I think you’re going to be seeing quite a bit more from us, and that this is the beginning of a new process on this that recognizes the reality on the ground in Cuba, which is in the past 20-plus years the underlying reality in Cuba has not changed for the average Cuban..[There was no direct response to the question about whether the U.S. was considering t returning Cuba to the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.[4]]
  • “There will not be any exemptions [from this new sanction for any U.S. company doing business in Cuba].” (Emphasis added.)
  • The “Foreign Claims Settlement Commission . . . has certified nearly 6,000 claims for property confiscated in Cuba with a total value of approximately 2 billion. With interest, we believe that value is somewhere in the $8 billion range. The most recent estimate we have from 1996, at the time that the law was enacted, that there could be up to 200,000 uncertified claims that were not certified by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, and that value could very easily be in the tens of billions of dollars. But it will depend on, of course, whether claimants decide to pursue legal cases or not.”[5]

The day before the official announcement in an embargoed briefing for journalists, an unidentified senior State Department official said that foreigners who have been trafficking in such properties  have “had over 20 years of profiting from property stolen from American citizens.”

Hints of This and Other Anti-Cuba Measures[6]

For the last several weeks the Administration has been hinting that more anti-Cuba measures were coming.

One such  hint came from Vice President Mike Pence at a U.N. Security council meeting on April 10, when he said, “For decades, Cuba has tried to create client states across our region.  While normal countries export goods, Cuba exports tyranny and strong-arm tactics.  Even now, Cuban military and intelligence services train and support and equip Venezuela’s secret police as they silence opponents, jail and torture members of the opposition.” Pence added, “Last week, the United States took action to sanction ships transporting Venezuelan oil to Cuba.  And soon, at President Trump’s direction, the United States will announce additional action to hold Cuba accountable for its malign influence in Venezuela.” (Emphasis added.)

 Two days later, President Trump issued his Proclamation on Pan American Day and Pan American Week, which said, in part, “Sadly, the people of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua continue to live under tyranny and authoritarianism.  The brutality and corruption of the illegitimate former regime in Venezuela has crippled the country and brought it to ruin.  We must not forget that the struggle is one between dictatorship and democracy, between oppression and freedom, and between continued suffering for millions of Venezuelans and an opportunity for a renewed future of freedom and prosperity.  The community of democracies in our Western Hemisphere must continue to support the people of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua as they fight for the restoration of democracy and liberty. (Emphases added.)

Another tip came from the State Department when it announced that  that the U.S. was adding four companies and nine vessels  to the list of Venezuelan companies  that were sanctioned for transporting oil to Cuba.[7] The Department also said the U.S.“will continue to do all we can to stand up against Cuba’s support for the former Maduro regime and its hostility to the Venezuelan people’s aspiration to a peaceful, prosperous, democratic future. Cuba’s intervention only seeks to delay the inevitable—the peaceful transition back to freedom and democracy that is underway in Venezuela, led by the Venezuelan people, Interim President Juan Guaido, and the National Assembly.”  (Emphasis added.)

Another hint came directly from Secretary Pompeo on April 14 in a speech in Cucata, Colombia, when he said, “ “Cubans must understand too that there will be cost associated with continued support of Nicolas Maduro.”  (Emphasis added.)

Conclusion

Later the same day (April 17), U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton in a speech in Miami addressed these new sanctions and other santi-Cuba measures that will be discussed in a subsequent post. Another post will review the responses to these new measures from the U.S., Cuba, Europe and Canada.

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[1]  Baker, Trump to Increase Pressure on Cuba by Lifting Lawsuit Limits, N.Y. Times (April 16, 2019); Reuters, In Major Shift, Trump to Allow Lawsuits Against Foreign Firms, N.Y. Times (April 16, 2019); Assoc. Press, Trump to Allow Lawsuits Over US Properties Seized in Cuba, N.Y. Times (April 16, 2019); DeYoung, Trump administration will allow U.S. citizens to sue over property seized after 1959,  Wash. Post (April 16, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, [Secretary Pompeo’s] Remarks to the Press (April 17, 2019); State Dep’t, Briefing With Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Kimberly Breier (April 17, 2019).

[3] NSPM refers to National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba (June 16, 2017). See President Trump Announces Reversal of Some Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017).

[4] See posts listed in the “Cuba: State Sponsor of Terrorism?” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[5]  See Resolution of U.S. and Cuba Damage Claims, dwkcommentaries.com (April 6, 2015).

[6] White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at a Special Session of the United Nations Security Council  on the Crisis in Venezuela/New York, NY (April 10, 2019); White House,  Proclamation on Pan American Day and Pan American Week (April 15, 2019); State Dep’t, The United States Takes Action To End Cuba’s Malign Influence on Venezuela (April 12, 2019).

 

Cuban Citizens Approve New Constitution

On February 24, in a national  referendum Cuban citizens approved a new constitution for the country. Here are the preliminary results of that referendum:

 

Category

     

Number

  

Percent

YES

6,816,169

78.6%

NO

706,400

8.1%

Blank & Spoiled Ballots

325,774

3.8%

Total Vote

7,848,343

90.5%

Not Voting

821,371

9.5%

Total Eligible Voters

8,669,714

100.0%

The total turnout of 90.5% and approval by 78.6% are extraordinarily high by U.S. standards. But given the Cuban government’s control of the media on the island and the overwhelming message calling for the YES vote, it is amazing that the total negative vote was 21.4% (NO + Blank & Spoiled Ballots+Not Voting).

Indeed, it should be remembered that on February 11, Cuban military and security forces arrested activists of a leading opponent of the constitution, The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPAC). According to UNPACU, the proposed new constitution “denies elementary rights, restricts basic freedoms {and Cubans] will continue oppressed and in the deepest misery.” The central reason for this conclusion, it says, is Article 5, which states as follows:

  • The Communist Party of Cuba, unique, Marxist, Fidelist, Marxist and Leninist, organized vanguard of the Cuban nation, based on its democratic character and the permanent bonding with the people, is the superior political force leader of the society and of the State.” (Emphasis by UNPACU.)

The new constitution recognizes private and cooperative businesses, creates the posts of prime minister and provincial governor and introduces presumption of innocence and habeas corpus into the justice system.

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Cuba Arrests Opponents of Proposed New Constitution, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 14, 2019); Cuba Says YES to new Constitution, Granma (Feb. 25, 2019);Special Coverage: The Cuban people vote in Constitutional Referendum, Granma (Feb. 24, 2019); Whitefield, Cuba approves new constitution amid unprecedented opposition, Miami Herald Feb. 25, 2019). 

A Pessimistic Assessment of Cuba’s Economic Future

Jorge G. Castañeda, the Foreign Minister of Mexico from 2000 to 2003,[1] has rendered a pessimistic assessment of Latin American socialism, especially in Venezuela and Cuba.[2]

He starts with the assertion that the recent “Cubana de Aviación airliner’s crash in Havana . . . [was an] illustration of the utter bankruptcy of the 21st century socialism.” Later in the article he says, like “the Cuban economy, the plane was old, poorly maintained, leased by the national airline because it was the only one it could afford, and the rest of Cubana de Aviación’s domestic fleet had already been grounded.” (A subsequent article reported that Cubana de Aviación has suspended all domestic flights until September.[3])

Cuba, he says, “paid a heavy price for the initial, and perhaps enduring, successes of its revolution: education, health and dignity. But from the very beginning — with the exception of a few years between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of its subsidies to Cuba in 1992 and the advent of Venezuelan support in 1999 — it always found someone to pay the bills. The next option was meant to be the United States. That no longer seems possible.”

Now, with a new president, Cuba “again faces enormous economic and social challenges. They stem from three problems with no solutions.”

“First, says Castañeda, is the fall of tourism from the United States and the new tough line on Cuba adopted by the Trump administration. Through March of this year, the number of visitors from the United States is down more than 40 percent compared with 2017. This is partly because of travel warnings over safety issued by Washington, partly because of new travel restrictions put in place by President Trump [[4]] and because after the initial boom of nostalgic tourism, Cuba is now competing for normal travelers with the rest of the Caribbean. Its beauty and charm do not easily outweigh other destinations’ far superior services and infrastructure, and lower prices. Today myriad start-up businesses — always thought to be too small and numerous to survive — that sprang up for United States visitors are failing as a result of falling tourism.” [5]

Second, according to Castańeda, “American sanctions and Cuban fear of economic reforms have rendered the push for greater foreign investment somewhat futile. After an initial rush of highly publicized announcements, some United States companies have proved reluctant to run risks, particularly given Mr. Trump’s hostility toward all things Obama, and his dependence on Florida for re-election.”

As a result, he continues, the Cuban “economy has stopped growing, scarcities have re-emerged and new opportunities for employment and hard-currency earnings are not appearing. If one adds to this the government’s decision to suspend new cuentapropista or private self-employment permits, it is no surprise to discover that economic prospects are dim.”

Third, “Venezuela is no longer able to subsidize Cuba’s transition to a Vietnam-style socialist economy the way it did before.” In short, Venezuela cannot now provide oil to Cuba at below-market prices and on credit and cannot pay for Cuban doctors, teachers and intelligence personnel, which has been a major source of Cuban export earnings.

Nevertheless, Venezuela is “Cuba’s only unconditional ally in the world.” Hence, the first foreign leader to visit Cuba’s new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, was Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, and Diaz-Canel returned the favor by making his first foreign visit to Venezuela.[6]

Now the U.S. is pressing for increased hemispheric sanctions against Venezuela with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on June 4 being expected to drop the next shoe in an address to the  General Assembly of the Organization of American States.[7] If any of those anticipated U.S. requests are met, this will increase the pressures on Cuba.

Conclusion

 In partial response to these issues, on June 2 Cuba started the process for revising its constitution with the agenda for an extraordinary session of its national legislature (the National Assembly of People’s Power) including approval of “the process to be followed in carrying out Constitutional Reform and the commission of deputies responsible for drafting and presenting the proposed Constitution of the Republic.”  This first step was the approval of a commission to prepare a draft of a revised constitution that will be headed by Raúl Castro, the former president, Diaz-Canel, the current president, and 31 others. Once the constitutional draft is ready, it is slated to be discussed first by the national legislature and then by the broader population, before being submitted to a referendum.[8]

One of the major anticipated challenges for drafting the new constitution will be validating private ownership of property and businesses while simultaneously upholding the “irrevocable nature of socialism.” Perhaps the selection of Castro as the chair of this constitutional commission is not as anti-economic reform as might appear to outsiders. After all Raúl first announced the need for a new constitution in 2011 after embarking on a series of reforms cautiously opening up the economy to foreign investment and the private sector in order to make Cuban socialism sustainable. And at the Communist Party’s Congress in 2016, Castro praised the innovations of the private sector and criticized the “outdated mentalities” and “inertia” of state-owned enterprises.[9]

Such a change will have to delete or modify a current constitutional clause forbidding Cubans from “obtaining income that comes from exploiting the work of others.” “According to Julio Perez, a political analyst and former news editor at state-run Radio Habana, said “Cuba has to make substantial changes to the constitution that endorse private property, self-employment and cooperatives as part of the Cuban economy.”

Simultaneously there are reports that the government is preparing decrees regarding norms for 2,386 Cooperatives of Credit and Services (CCS), 650 Cooperatives of Agricultural Production (CPA) and 1,084 Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC) operating in the agricultural sector and producing 92% of the island’s food.[10]

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[1] Castañeda now is Associated Professor of Public Service, New York University (NYU) Wagner; Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American and Caribbean Studies, NYU Faculty of Arts and Science. He also is a former member of the  board of Human Rights Watch and a noted author.

[2] Castañeda, The Bankruptcy of 21st Century Socialism, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2018).

[3] Cubano de Aviación will maintain the suspension of domestic flights at least until September, Diario de Cuba (June 2, 2018).

[4] This blog has criticized the 2017 State Department’s urging Americans to reconsider traveling to Cuba because of the still unresolved medical problems experienced by some U.S. (and Canadian) diplomats in Havana and the U.S. cancellation of individual person-to-person travel to Cuba. (E.g., A New Travel Warning for Americans Traveling to Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 19, 2017); New U.S. Regulations Regarding U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Cuban Entitles, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 8, 2017).)

[5]  As this blog has reported, Cuba’s private sector was flourishing in 2015-2016, but has fallen into hard times as a result of new Cuban restrictions on such enterprises and the decline of American visitors, a result that should be contrary to the normal Republican promotion of entrepreneurship and of a potential challenge to Cuba’s socialism. (See., e.g., Why Is the Cuban Government Trying To Slow Down the Private Sector? dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 3, 2017).)

[6] E.g., Cuba’s New Leader Praises Maduro in ‘Solidarity’ Visit to Venezuela, N.Y. Times (May 30, 2018); Why did Díaz-Canel make his first state visit as President to Venezuela?, Granma (June 1, 2018).

[7] U.S. State Dep’t, Secretary of State Pompeo to Lead U.S. Delegation to the Organization of American States General Assembly (June 1, 2018).

[8] Reuters, Cuba Set to Launch Constitutional Rewrite to Reflect Reforms, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2018); Raúl will lead the Commission in charge of the project of Constitution of the Republic (+ Video), Granma (June 2, 2018); Díaz-Canel: The new Constitution will take into account the principles of our political system, Granma (June 2, 2018); Deputies will continue meeting following extraordinary session, Granma (June 1, 2018); Romero, Constitutional Reform in Cuba: Priority for ANPP commissions, Cubadebate (June 2, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuba Forms Commission to Update Soviet-Era Constitution, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2018); Reuters, Raul Castro Appointed to Head Rewrite of Cuba Constitution, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2018).

[9] Raúl Castro Discusses Socio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (April 19, 2016); President Raúl Castro Affirms Importance of Cuba’s Private Sector, dwkcommentaries.com (July 18, 2017).

[10] The government prepares laws for Cuban agricultural cooperatives, producers of 92% of food, Diario de Cuba (June 2, 2018).

Cuba’ Prepares for Pope Francis Visit with Conflicting Actions Regarding Prisoners

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

The Cuban government has made plans to celebrate Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba, September 19-22.[1] The government also has taken conflicting actions regarding prisoners. On September 11 the Cuban government announced that it would release 3,522 prisoners.[2] Two days later, on September 13, it detained about 50 predominantly Roman Catholic citizens whom the government regards as dissidents.[3]

Cuba’s Plans To Celebrate the Pope’s Visit

In anticipation of the visit, Granma, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, published a lengthy and extraordinary article about the role of religion in Cuba. It started with the recognition that the visit will be “in the year of the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Holy See, and the 100th anniversary of the request by the veterans of the Cuban War of Independence for Our Lady of Charity to be declared Patron Saint of Cuba,”

“As Cubans we are conscious, whether religious or not, of the fact that the Pope will be welcomed by a combative, noble and united people, accustomed to rising above difficulties and walking tall, despite having been subjected to a brutal economic, commercial and financial blockade for over five decades, and having confronted the limitations resulting from this without neglecting to defend our culture, identity and roots, while safeguarding the education of our children.”

The Pope “will find a country that learns every day how to move forward with a progressive and constantly updated social project; a society that is built on the basis of the struggle for a better world; and whose history includes [sympathetic priests] . . . the synthesis of Cuban ethics, and for whom love of their homeland and of God were two consubstantial passions.”

The Pope also “will find a nation of cultural and religious multiplicity, the product of a process of transculturation, . . . essential to an understanding of the history of the nation and of Latin America. A mix of beliefs and manifestations marks the country’s religious makeup, described by the researcher as complex, heterogeneous and contradictory, due to its origins, ideas and representations and ways of organizing and expressing itself through rituals, etc.”

This diversity has “ the Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant and Orthodox churches coexist[ing with] Judaism, spiritualism, Afro-Cuban religions, Islam and Buddhism.” This diversity is protected by Article 8 of the Cuban Constitution, which states:

  • “The State recognizes, respects, and guarantees religious freedom. In the Republic of Cuba, religious institutions are separate from the State. The different creeds and religions enjoy equal consideration.”

Article 55 of the Constitution also states: “The State, which recognizes, respects and guarantees freedom of conscience and religion, simultaneously recognizes, respects, and guarantees the freedom of every citizen to change religious creeds, or not to have any; and to profess the religious worship of their choice, with respect for the law. The law regulates the State’s relations with religious institutions.”

These principles have also been reflected in the thoughts and actions of . . . Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz. [He] met with Chilean priests in 1971 and expressed the need to “unite Christians and revolutionaries” in the struggle for freedom. Later, when visiting Jamaica in 1977, this time addressing a predominantly Protestant audience, he returned to the theme of the “strategic alliance” that should exist between religion and socialism.”

“Years later, as evidence of the maturity of the Cuban revolutionary process and in line with the wishes of both parties, meetings between the Comandante and evangelical and protestant leaders in Cuba began to take place – a tradition maintained today by the highest authorities of the government – until, in 1991, at the Fourth [Communist] Party Congress, the wish of those believers eager to join the ranks of the organization was crystallized, an intention reiterated in January 2012 at the First National Conference of the [Communist] Party.”

“There are currently three Protestant pastors, a Presbyterian, a Baptist and an Episcopalian in the Cuban parliament, elected by popular vote; and in the same way members of the Catholic Church and other denominations and religious manifestations form part of the organs of state power and political and mass organizations.”

“The activities undertaken by religious institutions in cooperating with the state in the management of hospitals and nursing homes are examples of their connection with the most pressing problems of society, particularly related to the family and the aging population. These issues have featured on the agenda of recent meetings held between representatives of the institutions and fraternal associations, and the country’s leadership.”

“The visits of Popes John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012, reflected the similarities between the Cuban social project and Christian sentiments, in the effort to eliminate poverty and exclusion, in praising the role of the family, in defense of peace and against war, and in the preservation of the human species. In addition, they demonstrated the deeply humanistic culture of an entire people.”

Benedict XVI said in his farewell address in Cuba: “I hold deep in my heart all the Cuban people, each and every one. You have surrounded me with prayer and affection, offered me cordial hospitality and shared with me your profound and rightful aspirations.”

John Paul II expressed, “I am grateful to you for your cordial hospitality, an authentic expression of the Cuban soul, and above all for being able to share with you intense moments of prayer and reflection.”

“Other religious figures, including leaders of the Latin American Council of Churches, the Latin American Episcopal Council and the Caribbean Conference of Churches, general secretaries and presidents of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, cardinals and other prelates of the Holy See, pastors, priests, rabbis, Yoruba leaders, Muslims, Buddhists and scholars, have also visited our country.”

“In 2011, the Cuban Interfaith Platform, which includes representatives of all religious manifestations, was created. Undoubtedly, of special significance was its struggle for the return of the Cuban Five imprisoned in the United States, and in establishing a bridge between them and their families. The Council of Churches of Cuba was also a leading protagonist in the return home of Elián González and in confronting the blockade, another of the battles of our people for justice.

“Pope Francis will encounter these and other realities . . . [in Cuba. We] will welcome him on behalf of all Cuba. Among the gathered there may be those who don’t share the same religious beliefs, even those who are there motivated simply by that feeling of warmth and hospitality so inherent to Cubans.

But we are sure that [the Pope] will leave this land taking with him the imprint of intense days shared with a united and respectful people, true to its ancestors and patriotic sentiment; a nation with a deep commitment to justice and freedom.”

The Release of Prisoners

On September 11 the government announced that it would release 3,522 prisoners, including women, inmates younger than 20 with no prior offenses, those older than 60, prisoners with illnesses, some foreigners whose countries have agreed to repatriate them and others whose terms are coming to an end. Excluded from the release will be those charged with serious crimes like murder or child sexual abuse or crimes against national security.

“It’s a gift to Pope Francis— a grand gesture,” said Elizardo Sánchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a group that tracks rights in Cuba.

Sebastián A. Arcos, a former political prisoner in Cuba and now the associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University in Miami, said the mass release on the cusp of the Pope’s visit was a cynical and opportunistic effort to demonstrate a more tolerant government. “It’s makeup,” he said.

Mr. Arcos added that Cuba was able to make such a mass release largely because so many people were jailed for doing things that would not be illegal in any other country. “The reality is that Cuban prisons are overpopulated, and they have been for many years, because we are talking about a police state, a repressive police state, where almost anything is a crime,” he said. “Before these economic reforms were implemented, selling peanuts on the corner in Havana was a crime.”\

The Detention of Dissidents

 On Sunday, September 13, Cuban police detained about 50 people when a predominantly Roman Catholic dissident group led a march in Havana. In their weekly rally following mass at Havana’s Santa Rita Catholic Church, about 40 of the women, accompanied by about a dozen male supporters, marched outside their authorized route and down a side street where they were set upon by some 200 government supporters and police. Female police pushed, pulled and carried the women onto buses as some sat down in an attempt to resist. The men were handcuffed and shoved into police cars and vans.

Such detentions have become common following regular Sunday marches by the Ladies in White, a group that has criticized the Roman Catholic Church and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega for failing to advocate on its behalf with the Cuban government.

Ladies in White leader Berta Soler told Reuters the women planned to attend masses that Pope Francis will lead in Havana and Holguin while in Cuba. “I would discuss with the pope the need to stop police violence against those who exercise their freedom to demonstrate in public,” Soler said.

Cuba’s government considers the dissidents to be provocateurs who are financed by anti-communist groups in the U.S. as part of an effort to destabilize the government in Havana.

Among those detained for about an hour on Sunday was Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the country’s largest dissident organization. “The Church should be concerned about this or any time human rights are involved,” Ferrer said. “It is their duty.”

Conclusion

Francis’ visit to Cuba and then to the U.S. and what he has to say to the people and leaders of the two countries will be interesting and most challenging in light of his having played a significant role in helping the two countries to reach their historic decision last December to pursue normalization of relations. These future remarks undoubtedly were previewed in his recent critique of capitalism in an encyclical about environmental degradation and climate change. This theme also was prominent in remarks in his recent trips to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. He called the “unfettered pursuit of money” the “dung of the devil” and urged the poor and disenfranchised to rise up against “new colonialism,” including corporations, loan agencies, free trade treaties, austerity measures, and “the monopolizing of the communications media.”

On the other hand, as Nick Miroff in a Washington Post article pointed out, In a 1998 book about Pope John Paul II’s trip to Cuba, Francis, then still a high official of the church in Argentina, said that “socialism was an ‘anthropological misreading’ of human nature that fails to address man’s spiritual needs, mistakenly believing that the state is the solution to all of society’s problems. He also said, “Cuba and other nations need to transform some of their institutions and especially their policies, substituting corrupt, dictatorial and authoritarian governments for democratic and participatory ones. The free participation of citizens in public life, the guarantee of civil and human rights, are an imperative condition for the full human development of all people.”

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[1] Guerrero, Cuba ready to welcome Pope Francis, Granma (Sept. 10, 2015)

[2] Ahmed & Robles, Cuba to Release 3,522 Prisoners Before Pope Francis’ Visit, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2015); Miroff, Cuba pardons more than 3,500 prisoners ahead of Pope Francis visit, Wash. Post (Sept. 11, 2015); Council of State agrees to pardon 3,522 prisoners, Granma (Sept. 11, 2015).

[3] Reuters, Cuba Detains Dissidents Ahead of Pope Francis Visit, N.Y. Times (Sept. 13, 2015).

Cuba Holds Municipal Elections

On April 19th Cuba held the first round of elections for representatives or delegates to its municipal assemblies (Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power), a sort of neighborhood council that oversees local matters like water, sewers, street repair and insect fumigation. The total vote was approximately 7,553,000, representing 88.3% of the total electorate. [1]

Eligible voters, under article 132 of the Cuban Constitution, are all Cuban men and women, 16 years of age and older, unless ruled ineligible in accordance with electoral law. Voting in Cuba is a right and a civic duty, but is not a legal obligation. Voting is secret and the public can witness the count under Cuban law.

Elected were 11,425 delegates to the municipal councils while 1,164 districts where no candidate received at least 50% of the vote will go to a second round of voting on April 26th. Of those elected, 34.87% are women and 14.95% are youth. Of the elected delegates, 59.24% are members of the Communist Party of Cuba, which shows that it is not obligatory to be a party member in order to be elected.

Of the 27,379 candidates competing for 12,589 positions, two were Cuban dissidents who failed to become the first openly declared political opponents to win election in Cuba since the 1959 revolution, each failing in races for Havana municipal assemblies. In response to these two candidacies, Cuban media and electoral officials published disparaging information about the two men, including in the official candidate biographies hung by the government around their electoral districts.

One of these dissident candidates, Hildebrando Chaviano, 65, a lawyer who writes for Diario de Cuba, a website fiercely critical of the government, said, “The vote was clean. The count was clean. The people don’t want change. They still want the revolution. I still consider this a success. People know who we are now.”

Mercedes López
Mercedes López

Mercedes López Acea, First Secretary of the Communist Party in Havana and member of its Political Bureau, as well as a Council of State Vice President, said, “Today we ratify and defend the socialism we are constructing.” She emphasized that the election safeguards the rights of Cubans and validates the country’s participative democracy. “Among those nominated are young people, women, workers in a variety of occupations. . . . . This is an opportunity for all of us together to make the homeland stronger, on the basis of what all Cuban men and women want.” She added that the updating of Cuba’s economic model will advance in accordance with the work and dedication all Cuban men and women put to the task, saying, “Difficulties exist and have been identified, now we must work to resolve them.”

Articles in Granma featured photographs of Cuban leaders voting: Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, the First Vice President and the reputed presidential successor to Raúl Castro.

Raúl Castro
Raúl Castro
Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro
Miguel Diaz
Miguel Diaz

 

 

 

 

The date of the election, April 19, was chosen because it is the date when Cuba defeated the U.S.-sponsored invasion at the Bay of Pigs.

This is this blogger’s first examination of a Cuban election. It is based almost exclusively on Cuban sources. Do those sources provide fair reporting of the election? Was it a fair election? Those are questions to ponder as the hoped-for U.S.-Cuban reconciliation goes forward.

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[1] This post is based upon Loforte, More than 7 million Cubans exercised their right to vote, Granma (April 20, 2015); Hernández, Raúl casts his vote, Granma, April 20, 2015); Loforte, Fidel exercises his right to vote, Granma (April 19, 2015); Election day in Cuba, Granma (April 19, 2015); Castellanos, Voting is a tribute to our history, Granma (April 19, 2015); Hernández, Elections during historic times, Granma (April 19, 2015); Reuters, Two Cubans Lose Bids to Become First Opponents Elected to Office, N.Y. Times (April 19, 2015); Assoc. Press, 2 Cuban Dissidents Up for Election in Unprecedented Vote, N.Y. times (April 18, 2015); Mendoza & Medina, The right to vote in the Cuban electoral rules (final) (+inforgraphic), Granma (April 16, 2015).