Cuba’s Perspective on This Week’s U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Meetings in Havana

As mentioned in another post, the U.S. and Cuba will hold diplomatic meetings in Havana on January 21 and 22, 2014.

According to Granma, Cuba’s official and only newspaper, an unnamed source at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Cuba “is going to these meetings with the constructive spirit to sustain a respectful dialogue, based on sovereign equality and reciprocity, without undermining national independence and self-determination of the Cuban people.”

“We should not pretend that everything is solved in one meeting,” the source said. “Normalization is a much longer and complex process where you have to address issues of interest to both parties.”

Migration Issues

On January 21st, the focus will be migration, and the unnamed source said Cuba will report on “the progress of the measures taken in January 2013 to update the Cuban immigration policy and its impact on the flow of people between the two countries,” and the two countries will discuss ways to confront “illegal immigration, smuggling and document fraud.”

In addition, Cuba will express “its deep concern at the continuing [U.S.] policy of ‘wet foot/dry foot’ and the Cuban Adjustment Act, which is the main stimulus to illegal emigration.” Cuba also will complain about the U.S. policy “to grant parole [to] Cuban professionals and health technicians to abandon their mission in third countries.”

Normalization Issues

On January 22nd the focus will be the many issues surrounding the December 17th decision of the two countries to re-establish diplomatic relations. As previously mentioned, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will lead the U.S. delegation at this session.[1]

The unnamed Cuban source said there would be discussion about certain levels of existing coordination in dealing with illegal immigration, including border troops and the coastguard; drug interdiction; oil spills; and search and rescue in case of air and maritime accidents. They also “are beginning to talk about monitoring earthquakes.”

Cuba will “reiterate the proposal made last year by U.S. government to hold a respectful dialogue on the basis of reciprocity with regard to the exercise of human rights.” The source promised “a dialogue on a reciprocal basis and on an equal footing” regarding human rights. Cuba has “legitimate concerns about the exercise of human rights in the [U.S.],” including controversies over police shootings and killings of black men in Ferguson Missouri and New York City, which are “situations that do not happen in [Cuba].” The source says his country welcomes the U.S. to meet “with the recognized organizations that make up a vibrant civil society in Cuba: students, women, farmers, professionals, disabled, unions, among others.” [2]

According to this source, Cuba will emphasize “the restoration of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies in both capitals should be based on the principles of international law enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations and Consular Relations.”

“Compliance with these documents, to which both countries are signatories, means mutual respect for political and economic system of each country and to avoid any interference in the internal affairs of our nations. These principles are essentially sovereign equality, the settlement of disputes by peaceful means, refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, as well as equal rights, self-determination of peoples and non-intervention in matters which are domestic jurisdiction of states.”

In this context, Cuba will raise the following issues:

  • Solving the inability of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. to obtain banking services;
  • Ending the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor or Terrorism;”
  • Ending the U.S. blockade [or embargo] of Cuba and providing Cuba with “compensation for damages for a policy that has been in place for over 50 years.” (At the U.N. General Assembly meeting in October 2014, Cuba claimed that the damages were $1.1 trillion.)

These issues, the source admitted, obviously cannot be resolved at the one-day meeting this week.

Reactions

I agree that certain U.S. laws relating to Cubans’ ability to gain legal immigration status in the U.S. need to be changed if there is to be full normalization and reconciliation. This includes the so-called “wet foot/dry foot” policy whereby a Cuban who is on U.S. land is entitled to such legal status, but if a Cuban is apprehended by U.S. authorities on the high seas, he is not so entitled. So too the U.S. program for granting immigration parole to Cuban professional medical personnel needs to be ended, as recommended by a New York Times editorial and by this blogger last November. (Whether these changes may be done by the President’s executive order or whether it takes congressional action has not been investigated by this blogger.)

The U.S. repeatedly has insisted that issues of Cuban human rights and civil society need to be addressed, and the Cuban Foreign Ministry spokesperson said his country was prepared to do that so long as Cuba’s concerns about human rights in the U.S. are addressed. I agree that there should be mutuality in any such discussion.

I also agree that the restoration of normal diplomatic relations needs to be based on what should be the following noncontroversial principles of the U.N. Charter and the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations:

  • The U.N. Charter provides that it is “based on the principle of sovereign equality of all its members” (Art. 2(1)), that “[a]ll Members shall settle their disputes by peaceful means” (Art. 2(3)) and that “[a]ll Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the [U.N.]” (Art. 2(4)).
  • The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations provides that “The establishment of diplomatic relations between States, and of permanent diplomatic missions, takes place by mutual consent” (Art. 2) and sets forth many details on the agreed-upon ways of implementing such relations. There are 190 states that are parties to this treaty, including Cuba and the U.S.
  • Similarly the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations says “The establishment of consular relations between States takes place by mutual consent” (Art. 2(1)) and provides many details on the agreed-upon ways of implementing such relations. There are 177 parties to this treaty, including Cuba and the U.S.

Other points of agreement with the Cuban spokesperson are enabling the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. to obtain banking services in the U.S.; ending the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism;”[3] and ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba.[4] As discussed in an earlier post, the U.S. already has started the process under U.S. law for rescinding the unjustified “State Sponsor of Terrorism” designation, and I anticipate that this summer there will be such a rescission. President Obama already has decided that the embargo should end, but that requires congressional action, and the process for doing just that has commenced and will not be politically easy to accomplish

The issue of compensation, if any, for Cuba for its alleged damages of $1.1 trillion from the embargo, however, is another matter.[5] This is but one of several damage claims that need to be resolved. Others include U.S. compensation to Cuba for the U.S. use of Guantanamo Bay for at least the last 56 years; [6] Cuba’s compensating U.S. interests for expropriation of their property after 1959; and Cuba’s paying a December 1997 default judgment by a U.S. district court for $197 million (plus interest) for the deaths of three of the four pilots in the February 1966 Cuban shooting down of a private “Brothers to the Rescue” plane over international waters.

One way to resolve these claims would be an agreement by the two countries to submit all of these disputes to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands, which was established by a multilateral treaty, to which both Cuba and the U.S. are parties. Other ways would be the two countries creating a special claims commission to hear and resolve all of these claims or agreeing to settle all or some of the claims.

Resolving these competing claims, however, has to recognize the economic reality, in my judgment, that Cuba does not have the financial resources to pay any large amount of money. Therefore, compensating U.S. interests for expropriation of their property in Cuba, as I see it, would have to come out of any U.S. compensation of Cuba for its claims.

What do all of these points mean for the timing of full restoration of diplomatic relations? Cuba seems to be saying that ending the embargo and the “State Sponsor of Terrorism” designation have to happen first before restoring full diplomatic relations. In the best of all possible worlds from the U.S. perspective that would be sometime this summer. An agreement on how to resolve the damage claims would be another important accomplishment that should, in my judgment, lead to the restoration of diplomatic relations and perhaps that could happen this year, but the actual resolution of the damage claims would take several years to happen absent a settlement of the claims, which seems unlikely.

In the meantime, the parties could and should agree to a process for the restoring of diplomatic relations.

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[1] Today Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), a Cuban-American and the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Jacobson, saying “it is imperative” that she demand “unconditional freedom of the [previously released] 53 political prisoners and demand an end to politically motivated arrests of peaceful democracy and human rights activists.” (Emphasis added.) Menendez also urged pressing “Cuba on a commitment to permit visits to all prisons and prisoners by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross and to begin to demand action on fugitives from U.S. justice and American citizen compensation claims for property nationalized by the Cuban government in past decades.” The U.S., according to Menendez, “must prioritize the interests of American citizens and businesses that have suffered at the hands of the Castro regime before providing additional economic and political concessions to a government that remains hostile to U.S. interests.”

[2] The Washington Post reports that on Friday Jacobson will host a breakfast meeting with Cuban civil society representatives, human rights activists and political dissidents before she returns to Washington.

[3] Prior posts have articulated the statutory process for rescission and why the Designation should be rescinded.

[4] Prior posts have stated why the embargo should be ended, a conclusion also endorsed by New York Times editorial in October 2014.

[5] From my experience as a litigator of business disputes, I anticipate that any such damage claim would be subjected to rigorous examination and rebuttal by the U.S., including the undoubted U.S. argument that all or some of the alleged damages were not caused by the embargo, but rather by Cuban economic ineptitude. Of course, the U.S. would probably argue that the major premise of Cuba’s claim—the illegality of the embargo—is invalid despite the U.N. General Assembly’s condemning the embargo by overwhelming margins for 23 consecutive years. (I have not examined the merits of this legal issue.)

[6] Cuba’s original February 23, 1903, and July 2, 1903, lease of Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. for a naval coaling station called for annual rent of $2,000 in gold coin, but this was changed to $4,085 in U.S. Dollars (the gold equivalent at the time) in a treaty of May 29, 1934. After the Cuban Revolution’s assuming power on January 1, 1959, the Cuban Government has refused to cash all of the U.S. annual checks for that amount except for one that was cashed by mistake. Although the fair market value of the lease for the last 56 years has not been determined, there could be no legitimate argument that it is not substantially in excess of $4,085. Other potential issues are (a) whether the original lease of 1903 and the 1934 amendment are subject to a claim that they are invalid because of alleged duress or undue influence by the U.S. when Cuba was a de facto U.S. protectorate; (b) whether the lease should be terminated with Cuba paying for the improvements made by the U.S.; or (c) whether there should be a new lease of this land to the U.S. under totally different conditions.

New York Times Calls for End of U.S. Program for Special Immigration Relief for Cuban Medical Personnel

On November 17th the New York Times published another editorial in its series urging changes in U.S. policies regarding Cuba.[1] Under the title “A Cuban Brain Drain, Courtesy of the U.S.,” the editorial targets the U.S.’s Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (CMPPP).

In order to understand the editorial, we first must look at the Cuban government’s policy and program of sending Cuban medical personnel to other countries and then at the CMPPP’s response to that Cuban program. Thereafter we will examine the Times’ rationale for its recommendation along with the arguments for the Wall Street Journal’s support of the CMPPP before we voice our conclusions.

 Cuban Policy and Program of Sending Medical Personnel Abroad

According to a 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal, since 1973 Cuba has been sending medical ‘brigades’ to foreign countries, “helping it to win friends abroad, to back ‘revolutionary’ regimes in places like Ethiopia, Angola and Nicaragua, and perhaps most importantly, to earn hard currency. [The] Communist Party newspaper Granma reported in June [2010] that Cuba had 37,041 doctors and other health workers in 77 countries. Estimates of what Cuba earns from its medical teams—revenue that Cuba’s central bank counts as ‘exports of services’—vary widely, running to as much as $8 billion a year.”

Again, according to the same Wall Street Journal article, Cuban doctors often desire such overseas assignments because they provide opportunities to earn significantly more money than at home. “When serving overseas, they get their Cuban salaries [of $25 per month], plus a $50-per-month stipend—both paid to their dependents while they’re abroad. . . . In addition, they themselves receive overseas salaries—from $150 to $1,000 a month, depending on the mission.” Many on-the-side also engage in private fee-for-service medical practice, including abortions. As a result, many of the Cubans are able to save substantial portions of their overseas income, which they often use to purchase items they could not have bought in Cuba like television sets and computers. Other desirable purchases are less expensive U.S. products that they can sell at a profit when they return to Cuba.

The Wall Street Journal article adds, “Since Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela in 1998, Cuba has been bartering its [medical personnel] . . . for Venezuelan oil. The U.S. Energy Department estimates that in [2010] Venezuela ships Cuba 90,000 barrels of oil a day—worth more than $2 billion a year at [then] current prices. In addition, Venezuela pays Cuba for medical teams sent to countries that Mr. Chávez considered part of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian” sphere: Bolivia, Honduras, Ecuador and Paraguay.”

As a result of this quid pro quo, Cuba has over 10,000 medical personnel serving in Venezuela. According to the Los Angeles Times just this past September, the working conditions in that country for the Cubans are horrible. Many of the clinics lack air-conditioning and functioning essential medical equipment. The Cubans’ workload is often “crushing.” Common crime is rampant, and the Cubans are often caught in the middle of Venezuela’s civil unrest between followers of the late Hugo Chavez who want the Cubans to be there and more conservative forces that oppose the Cuban presence. As a result, as we will see below in the discussion of CMPPP, many Cuban medical personnel serving in Venezuela have chosen to defect to the U.S. under CMPP.

The Times editorial says, “This year, according to the state-run newspaper Granma, the government expects to make $8.2 billion from its medical workers overseas. The vast majority, just under 46,000, are posted in Latin America and the Caribbean. A few thousand are in 32 African countries.”[2]

Facts Regarding CMPPP

A U.S. Department of State website says this program was announced on August 11, 2006, “by the Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with the Department of State, [as a program] that . . . would allow Cuban medical personnel conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of the Cuban government to enter the United States.”[3]

Under the program “Cuban Medical Professionals” (i.e., health-care providers such as doctors, nurses, paramedics, physical therapists, lab technicians and sports trainers) are eligible if they meet the following criteria: (1) Cuban nationality or citizenship, (2) medical professional currently conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of the Government of Cuba, and (3) not otherwise ineligible for entry into the U.S. Spouses and/or minor children are also eligible for such parole.

According to the Times’ editorial and the Wall Street Journal, the program “was the brainchild of Cuban-born Emilio González,” a former U.S. Army colonel, the director of the U.S. Citizen & Immigration Services from 2006 to 2008 and a “staunchly anti-Castro exile.” “He has characterized Cuba’s policy of sending doctors and other health workers abroad as ‘state-sponsored human trafficking.’” The Cuban doctors, he says, work directly for health authorities in other countries and have no say in their assignments.

The Times’ editorial includes the following table showing the official numbers of CMPPP visas that have been issued:

Fiscal Year Number
2006      11
2007    781
2008    293
2009    519
2010    548
2011    384
2012    681
2013    995
2014 1,278
TOTAL 5,490

Given the large numbers of Cuban medical personnel that are sent to Venezuela to help pay for Cuba’s importation of Venezuelan oil, it is not surprising that the largest number of defections of Cubans has been from that country. As of the end of FY 2010, according to the previously mentioned Wall Street Journal article, the total defections by country were the following: Venezuela, 824; Colombia, 291; Bolivia, 60; Dominican Republic, 30; Ecuador, 28; Guatemala, 25; Brazil, 21; Namibia, 21; Peru, 19; and Guyana, 14.

Apparently the largest number of defections from Venezuela continues in light of the previously mentioned difficult working conditions. For FY 2011-2014 there were an additional 1,181 Cuban defections from Venezuela to the U.S. under CMPPP for a grand total of 2,005.[4] In addition, many of the Cubans in that country fear being seen going to the U.S. embassy in Caracas and instead fly to neighboring Colombia and apply there for CMPPP.

Another obvious reason for such defections under CMPP is the desire of the Cubans to earn more income in the U.S. I have met a Cuban neurologist whose wife was a skilled nurse, but who worked as a waitress in a nearby resort in order to earn more income and obtain tips in hard currencies. Like almost all Cubans, they did not earn enough to afford to have their own automobile and told me about Cuban television announcements that people who had an automobile or other vehicle had a special obligation to give rides to anyone in a white coat. Later while on a mission in Central America they defected to the U.S. under CMPPP. At least as I heard their story, they were merely looking for a way to improve their lives financially.

The Times’ Reasons for Ending CMPPP

The editorial starts by noting, “Secretary of State John Kerry and the American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, have praised the work of Cuban doctors dispatched to treat Ebola patients in West Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sent an official to a regional meeting the Cuban government convened in Havana to coordinate efforts to fight the disease. In Africa, Cuban doctors are working in American-built facilities.The epidemic has had the unexpected effect of injecting common sense into an unnecessarily poisonous relationship.”

Therefore, says the Times, “it is incongruous for the [U.S.] to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake [and the current Ebola crisis in West Africa] while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy [under CMPPP].”

Moreover, says the Times, “Cuba has been using its medical corps as the nation’s main source of revenue and soft power for many years. The country has one of the highest numbers of doctors per capita in the world and offers medical scholarships to hundreds of disadvantaged international students each year, and some have been from the United States. According to Cuban government figures, more than 440,000 of the island’s 11 million citizens are employed in the health sector.”

The creation of CMPP was really motivated by a desire by anti-Castro Americans “to strike at the core of the island’s primary diplomatic tool, while embarrassing the Castro regime.” This is hardly a worthy motivation for the U.S.

For a poor country like Cuba, it makes sense to use one of its few economic strengths to bolster its foreign exchange earnings. Is this not an example of the concept of comparative advantage first formulated by classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo? The program also helps Cuba garner good will around the world for helping to improve the health of others. There is no legitimate reason for the U.S. to be opposed to such a program.

Adds the Times editorial, “American immigration policy should give priority to the world’s neediest refugees and persecuted people. It should not be used to exacerbate the brain drain of an adversarial nation at a time when improved relations between the two countries are a worthwhile, realistic goal.”

In 2006 when CMPPP was commenced, Cuban medical personnel could not obtain their government’s permission to leave the island for any reason, and this was asserted as one of the reasons for the U.S.’ creation of CMPPP. Last year, however, the Times says, “the Cuban government liberalized its travel policies, allowing most citizens, including dissidents, to leave the country freely. Doctors, who in the past faced stricter travel restrictions than ordinary Cubans, no longer do.”

Moreover, the Times asserts, “The Cuban government has long regarded the medical defection program as a symbol of American duplicity. It undermines Cuba’s ability to respond to humanitarian crises and does nothing to make the government in Havana more open or democratic. As long as this incoherent policy is in place, establishing a healthier relationship between the two nations will be harder.”

Finally, according to the Times, “Many medical professionals, like a growing number of Cubans, will continue to want to move to the United States in search of new opportunities, and they have every right to do so. But inviting them to defect while on overseas tours is going too far.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Reasons for Supporting CMPPP

The Wall Street Journal’s opinions on this subject are frequently uttered by its columnist on Latin American issues, Mary Anastasia O’Grady. The headline for her November 9, 2014, column makes clear her ultimate conclusion: “Cuba’s Slave Trade in Doctors.” She asserts that Cuba’s policy and practice of sending some of its medical personnel to other countries is an “extensive human-trafficking racket now being run out of Havana.”

Her argument centers on the Cuban government’s being paid for these services by other countries like Venezuela or by international organizations like WHO and the government’s paying its medical personnel only some of the Cuban government’s revenues for their services. But this ignores the fact that any corporation or other business entity that sells services, pays the people who actually provide the service less than what is collected by the corporation because there are other cost factors that have to be covered plus a profit.

While she admits that “Cuban doctors are not forced at gunpoint to become expat slaves,” she argues they “are given offers they cannot refuse.”

Conclusion

When the CMPPP was created in 1966, Cuba’s government prohibited its medical personnel from leaving the island, and one of CMPP’s original rationales was providing a legitimate way to provide them with a way to leave Cuba and go elsewhere. Now, however, the Cuban government permits such citizens to leave. This change, in this blogger’s opinion, eliminates the only arguably legitimate basis for CMPPP.

The allegation by some supporters of CMPP that Cuba’s practice of sending medical teams to other countries is a form of human trafficking is absurd, in this blogger’s opinion. The Cuban government has paid for all of the education of its medical personnel, and sending some of them to serve in foreign countries is a way for them to compensate the state for their free education. This Cuban practice is like the U.S. practice during some wars of having a selective service system and drafting some people to serve in our armed forces. Similarly we in the U.S. from time to time have debated having some kind of required national non-military service program for younger citizens without anyone arguing that it would be illegal human trafficking.

The U.S. State Department issues annual reports on the status of other countries’ human trafficking, which the reports define as “umbrella terms for the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.” This compelled service requirement uses “a number of different terms, including involuntary servitude, slavery or practices similar to slavery, debt bondage, and forced labor.”

Although the latest U.S. report on this subject unjustly casts Cuba into the report’s Tier 3 status,[5] as argued in a prior post, that report rejects the argument that Cuba is engaged in human trafficking when it sends its medical personnel to other countries. Here is what that report says on this issue:

  • “Some Cubans participating in the work missions have stated that the postings are voluntary, and positions are well paid compared to jobs within Cuba. Others have claimed that Cuban authorities have coerced them, including by withholding their passports and restricting their movement. Some medical professionals participating in the missions have been able to take advantage of U.S. visas or immigration benefits [under the CMPPP], applying for those benefits and arriving in the United States in possession of their passports—an indication that at least some medical professionals retain possession of their passports. Reports of coercion by Cuban authorities in this program do not appear to reflect a uniform government policy of coercion; however, information is lacking.”

This blogger, therefore, supports the Times’ calling for an end to CMPPP.

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[1] Under the overall title of “Cuba: A New Start,” the prior editorials (all of which are simultaneously published in Spanish) have urged overall reconciliation between the two countries, including ending the ending of the U.S. embargo of the island, the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and re-establishing normal diplomatic relations; U.S.-Cuba collaboration in combatting Ebola in West Africa; recognizing changing U.S. public opinion on relations with Cuba; U.S.-Cuba exchange of prisoners; and ending USAID covert programs to promote regime change in Cuba.

[2] Another issue unrelated to CMPPP is whether or not the services provided by the Cuban medical personnel meet the professional standards of the country where they serve. A South American ophthalmologist has told this blogger that she frequently has been called to fix problems created by Cuban doctors on such missions, but this blogger has no information about any comprehensive study of this issue.

[3] The program’s stated statutory authorization is INA section 212(d)(5)(A), 8 U.S.C. 1182(d)(5)(A) (permits parole of an alien into the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit); 8 CFR 212.5(c) & (d) (discretionary authority for granting parole), whereby the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may exercise its discretionary parole authority to permit eligible Cuban nationals to come to the United States.

[4] This calculation is based upon a November 9, 2014, article in Venezuela’s El Universal newspaper.

[5] Tier 3 is a U.S.-created category of countries that the U.S. asserts “do not fully comply with [a U.S. statute’s] minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so”.