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).

Results of U.S.-Cuba Discussions After Ceremonial Opening of U.S. Embassy in Havana

John Kerry & Bruno Rodriguez
John Kerry & Bruno Rodriguez

After the ceremonial opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana on August 14, 2015, Cuba and the U.S. held closed-door discussions. Here is what was disclosed about those discussions at a joint press conference at the city’s Hotel Nacional by Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriquez and from other sources.[1]

Guarded Optimism. Repeating his earlier remarks at the Embassy, Kerry said this was an historic moment as the two countries continued to engage in a cooperative way to address the many issues that had accumulated over the last 50 years. Rodriguez said essentially the same thing.

Empowerment of People. According to Kerry, normalization “will contribute to greater empowerment of . . . the Cuban people to be able to plug into the global economy, to be able to trade more, to be able to move and travel and enjoy the fruits of their labor, to be able to raise the standards of living, and therefore improve their lives.” It will “also help [U.S.] citizens . . . , including students, the private sector to be able to learn more about this country, to be able to establish friendships and connections that will last, hopefully, for a lifetime.”

Improved U.S. Relations with Western Hemisphere. Kerry said normalization “will also remove a source of irritation and division within the hemisphere.” At April’s Summit of the Americas, many countries said “how happy they are that finally the [U.S.] and Cuba are going to move to renew their relationship, because all of them were supportive of and encouraging us to take that kind of step.”

U.S. Embargo (Blockade) Issues. Rodriguez re-emphasized Cuba’s demands for the U.S. to end its embargo (blockade) of the island and for the U.S. to pay compensation for the alleged damages to the Cuban economy caused by that measure. Kerry agreed on the need to end the embargo and emphasized President Obama’s request for Congress to do just that.

According to Reuters and the Associated Press, this issue came up again at a meeting that evening with Cuban dissidents at the official Havana residence of the charge d’affaires. Kerry then said, “the U.S. Congress was unlikely to ever lift a punishing economic embargo on Cuba unless the Communist government improved its human rights [or civil liberties] record.” The AP quoted Kerry as saying, “There is no way Congress will lift the embargo if we are not making progress on issues of conscience.”

After there had been a report of those comments, Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead negotiator in negotiations with the U.S., told Reuters, “Decisions on internal matters are not negotiable and will never be put on the negotiating agenda in conversations with the United States. Cuba will never do absolutely anything, not move one millimeter, to try to [obtain the end of the embargo (blockade).]”

U.S. Claims for Expropriated Property. Rodriguez said, “Cuban laws have foreseen the [need for] compensation to owners whose properties were nationalized in the 1960s. And all the owners were compensated in due time with exception of American citizens due to the circumstances . . . in the bilateral relations. I reiterate that the Cuban laws include the possibility to pay compensations.”

This point was reiterated later that day by Cuban diplomat, Josefina Vidal, who said that Cuba is willing to discuss the 5,913 claims from Americans whose properties were nationalized after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. A Cuban law, however, links negotiations on property claims to Cuba’s own claims for damages caused by the embargo and other U.S. aggressions.

Guantanamo Bay Issues. Rodriguez reiterated Cuba’s request or demand for the U.S. to return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba. Kerry, however, said, “Now, at the moment, there is no current discussion or plan to change the arrangement with respect to Guantanamo, but I can’t tell you what will happen over the years in the future.”

Josefina Vidal stated that she receives the annual U.S. $4,085 rental checks for Guantanamo Bay, which Cuba refuses.to cash because it sees the U.S. occupation of Guantanamo as illegal. Instead each of the checks is stored in Cuban archives “like a historical document.”

Migration issues. According to Kerry, the U.S. supports “safe, legal, orderly migration from Cuba to the [U.S.]” and “full implementation of the existing migration accords with Cuba.” But the U.S. currently has “no plans whatsoever to alter the current migration policy, including the Cuban Adjustment Act, and we have no plans to change the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy.”

Rodríguez responded: “migration waves of people escaping from poverty and military conflicts are well known. Fortunately this does not happen in the Latin America and the Caribbean region.” But we have “serious concerns about the migration processes from [Central American] countries affecting hundreds [of thousands] of small children [fleeing to the U.S.]”

Rodriguez continued, “Migration relations between the U.S. and Cuba . . . should not be politicized. They should be totally normal.” We agree to encourage the “safe and orderly migration between both countries. We also agree on the risks, the dangers, and the need to establish an international and bilateral cooperation against trafficking in persons [and related transnational organized crime].” Cuba also believes “the migration accords in force between the U.S. and Cuba should be strictly respected and that any policy or any practical action which is not in accordance with the spirit and language of the accords should be abolished.” [2] We believe that the freedom of travel is also a fundamental human right.”

U.S. Human Rights Problems. Rodriguez opened his comments at the press conference with complaints of U.S. human rights transgressions — from police shootings of black men to mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. naval base on Cuba that the government says must be returned. “Cuba isn’t a place where there’s racial discrimination, police brutality or deaths resulting from those problems,” Rodriguez said. “The territory where torture occurs and people are held in legal limbo isn’t under Cuban jurisdiction.”

U.S. Presidential Election of 2016. Kerry said he could not imagine “another president, Republican or Democrat, just throwing [the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and steps towards normalization] out the window.” In addition, Kerry thought “that people understand that over 54 years, we had a policy that was isolating us, not changing the world.”

Steering Committee. The two countries have established a steering committee or commission to address the many outstanding issues. This body will meet in Havana for the first time in the first or second week of September.

This body will follow three tracks. The first will encompass areas in which rapid progress is expected, such as cooperation on naval matters, climate change and the environment. The second will tackle more complex topics like the establishment of direct airline flights and U.S. telecommunications deals with Cuba. The last will take on the toughest problems, including the embargo, human rights and each country’s desire to have fugitives returned by the other.

Conclusion

The steering committee’s first tier of issues (the easiest ones) apparently will include agreements for civil aviation landing rights for each country’s airlines, direct mail, environmental protection and battling drug trafficking. (Indeed on August 17 the Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama Administration was pushing for the airliner deal by the end of this year.[3])

The third tier of issues (the most difficult) apparently will include ending the U.S. embargo (blockade), which is an issue for the U.S. Congress, not for negotiations with Cuba; U.S. compensation to Cuba for alleged damages to its economy from the embargo (blockade); Cuba’s compensation to U.S. interests for expropriation of their property in Cuba; the future status of Guantanamo Bay; and extradition of fugitives from one country to the other.[4]

I agree that the most difficult set of issues to be resolved by bilateral negotiations are those just mentioned. Indeed, as an outsider, I think they will be impossible to resolve by such negotiations.

On the other hand, I think that the way to resolve these issues is direct and simple in concept: submit these disputes to an impartial third party. There are various ways this could be done. I have suggested that the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands be chosen by the two countries to resolve these disputes: it has been in existence since the late 19th century and has an existing set of rules for such proceedings, which will be lengthy and complicated.

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[1] State Dep’t, Press Availability With Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla (Aug. 14, 2015); Reuters, Kerry Says Next U.S. President Likely to Uphold New Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (Aug. 14, 2015); Reuters, Cuba Says Won’t Move ‘One Millimeter’ to Placate Enemies in U.S., N.Y. Times (Aug. 14, 2015); Assoc. Press, A Festive Flag-Raising, Then Tough Talk on US-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (Aug. 15, 2015);Reuters, Cuba’s Top Diplomat for U.S. Sees Long Road for Normal Ties, N.Y. Times (Aug. 16, 2015); Cuban Foreign Minister receives John Kerry (+Photos), Granma (Aug. 14, 2015); John Kerry: We are determined to move forward, Granma (Aug. 14, 2015); Cuba and U.S. discuss next steps in developing relations, Granma (Aug. 14, 2015); Cuba and the United States: Some questions about the future, Granma (Aug. 14, 2015); In joint press conference Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla and John Kerry, Granma (Aug. 15, 2015).

[2] One of the criticized U.S. immigration policies is the dry foot/wet foot program whereby a Cuban who lands on U.S. land is eligible for special U.S. immigration status while one apprehended at sea is not.. Another is the U.S.’ Cuban medical personnel parole program.

[3] Schwartz, Nicas & Lee, Obama Administration Pushes for Deal to Start Flights to Cuba by Year’s End, W.S.J. (Aug. 17, 2015); Reuters, White House, Cuba Work to Resume Scheduled Commercial Flights, WSJ, N.Y. times (Aug. 17, 2015).

[4] Previous posts have discussed Cuba’s claim for damages from the embargo (blockade); the U.S. claims for compensation for expropriated property; the Cuban lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. and whether Cuba has a legal right to terminate the lease; extradition of fugitives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. State Department’s Latest Report on Cuban Human Rights

U.S. Flag
U.S. Flag

The U.S. State Department’s just-released 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices’ chapter on Cuba needs analysis.[1]

The Report’s Negative Comments about Cuban Human Rights

The Executive Summary of its chapter on Cuba has a strongly negative tone. It states the following:

  • “Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the council of state and council of ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and ‘the superior leading force of society and of the state.’ A CP candidacy commission preapproved all candidates for the February uncontested National Assembly elections, which were neither free nor fair. The national leadership that included members of the military maintained effective control over the security forces, which committed human rights abuses against civil rights activists and other citizens alike.
  • In January the government largely dropped travel restrictions that prevented citizens from leaving the island, but these reforms were not universally applied, and authorities denied passport requests for certain opposition figures or harassed them upon their return to the country.
  • The principal human rights abuses were abridgement of the right of citizens to change the government and the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical violence, intimidation, mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.
  • The following additional abuses continued: harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest, selective prosecution, and denial of fair trial. [2] Authorities interfered with privacy, engaging in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedom of speech and press, severely restricted internet access and maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained significant restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights.
  • Most human rights abuses were official acts committed at the direction of the government. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.”

The Report’s Positive Comments about Cuban Human Rights

This Executive Summary paints a bleak picture of Cuban human rights, and I have no doubt that many of these points are legitimate. But I still believe that it overstates the negatives.

Indeed, the Executive Summary failed to acknowledge that the Report itself stated there were “no reports that the [Cuban] government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings . . . [or] politically motivated disappearances.”

In addition, the Report itself stated in Cuba that there was “no societal pattern of child abuse;” that the government operated family counseling centers; that the government “continued to carry out media campaigns” against domestic violence; that the government “actively promoted racial integration and inclusiveness;” that a government resolution “accords persons with disabilities the right to equal employment opportunities and equal pay for equal work;” and that there was no “discrimination officially reported or permitted based on sexual orientation” accentuated by President Castro’s daughter’s promotion of LGBT rights.

With respect to Cuba’s prisoners and pretrial detainees, the Report conceded that they “had access to visitors;” that many “were able to communicate information about their living conditions through telephone calls to human rights observers and reports to family members;” that they “could practice limited religious observance;” and that “the Catholic Church and the Cuban Council of Churches reported access to prisoners during the year, with services offered in prisons and detention centers in most if not all provinces.”

On Cuban religious freedom more generally, the Report merely incorporated by reference the section on Cuba in the Department’s most recent International Religious Freedom Report that this blog previously criticized as understating the extent of religious freedom on the island.[3]

Moreover, the new overall Human Rights Report admits that “religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings than in the past;” that “[r]eligious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and even the country’s leadership without reprisals;” that the “Catholic Church operated a cultural center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants voicing different opinions about the country’s future, at which well-known dissidents were allowed to participate;” and that the “Catholic Church published two periodicals that sometimes included criticism of official social and economic policies . . . [and] a pastoral letter advocating for political and economic reforms and greater rights for citizens.”

The new overall Report also says that the “Catholic Church received permission to broadcast Christmas and Easter messages on state-run television stations . . . [while] the Council of Churches, the government-recognized Protestant umbrella organization, was authorized to host a monthly 20-minute radio broadcast;” that religious “groups reported the ability to gather in large numbers without registering or facing sanctions;” and that “[r]ecognized churches, [and] the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas . . . were . . . legally permitted to function outside the formal structure of the state, the [Communist Party], and government-organized organizations.” In addition, there were “no reports of anti-Semitic acts.”

Finally the Report concedes that the Cuban constitution and other laws prohibit abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners and provide alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders and juveniles as well as rights to seek redress for improper prison conditions and treatment. Cuban law, the Report said, also specifies reasonable procedures for investigations and prosecutions of alleged crimes.

Conclusion

Cuba’s regrettable lapses on human rights, though perhaps understandable in context, should not be a reason for continued U.S. hostility toward the island. A subsequent post will examine what this blogger sees as the implications of this report for U.S. policies regarding Cuba.


[1] A prior post reviewed the Department’s overall summary of global human rights in 2013.

[2] The most recent annual report (May 2013) from Amnesty International makes similar allegations about Cuba as did Human Rights Watch’s April 2013 submission to the U.N. Human Rights Council regarding its Universal Periodic Review of Cuba.

[3] This blog criticized the prior reports on Cuban religious freedom by the State Department and by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In addition, another post reviewed positive comments on religious freedom from religious leaders with direct experience on the island. Similar points were made on February 27th, 2014, by six Cuban Protestant Christian leaders at a congressional briefing hosted by U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (Republican of Arizona) and Representative Jim McGovern (Democrat of Massachusetts). In response, a strong supporter of current U.S. policies regarding Cuba launched an unwarranted ad hominem attack on these leaders.