Examination of the Actions of EchoCuba (a U.S. Nonprofit)

The Evangelical Christian Humanitarian Outreach for Cuba (ECHO Cuba), a U.S. nonprofit organization, has emerged as one that calls for close examination by U.S. citizens interested in U.S.-Cuba normalization and reconciliation. EchoCuba is active in Cuba, including successful public opposition to a provision of the then proposed new Cuban constitution and commenting on other controversial Cuban issues. It has received significant financial support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Finally EchoCuba has been used by the State Department as one of only two primary sources for the department’s most recent (and critical) annual report on Cuban religious freedom. These activities have not yet received the serious attention that they deserve. This blog post endeavors to start that examination.

ECHOCuba’s Background [1]

The organization was founded in 1994 by Cuban-American Teo Babún. Soon thereafter it was denounced in the Cuban TV news series “Razones de Cuba” for promoting subversion on the island, with funding from the U.S. government, by publishing counterrevolutionary blogs and printed propaganda and by hosting public events.

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, has reported that Senor Babún and his family before the triumph of the Revolution “owned the second largest sugarmill in the eastern part of [Cuba]; the Diamante construction company; a cement factory; the Sevilla estate; and the Santiago de Cuba ship line.” After 1959, however, he and his family left the island for Miami, where he made connections with the “annexionist” mafia [Cuban exiles], supported the U.S.-organized mercenary invasion of Play Girón [Bay of Pigs in 1961] and a subsequent terrorist attack on the coastal town of Boca de Samá in 1971.

A noted Cuban intellectual and historian, Nestor Garcia Iturbe, added that Senor Babún is (or was) the executive director of Americas Humanitarian Relief Logistics Team, Inc. (ART) , which says that it “provides aid to hurting people in the Americas” and “disaster response assistance throughout the Americas” as well as partnering with the U.S. Navy’s Southern Command and with “USAID and UN/OCHA through the U.N. Humanitarian System.” Indeed, Garcia says this organization also is a recipient of USAID fund. Another organization created by Babún was the Claims Register Assistance to aid persons who wanted to file claims in the 1960s with the U.S. Department of Justice for their Cuban properties that had been expropriated by the Fidel Castro regime.

The current website for EchoCuba states that its mission is “to equip and strengthen the independent evangelical churches of Cuba through theological education and leadership training of their existing and future pastors. . . . Since the early 1990s, . . . [it] has existed to advocate faith and freedoms in Cuba through a vast network of mostly . . . Protestant and Roman Catholic churches who have promoted Christian education, humanitarian aid, and small business initiatives.”

EchoCuba says in 2002 it “cooperated with different foundations and organizations  in distributing humanitarian assistance and training manuals on carrying out social and human services, such as caring for the elderly, disabled, and malnourished children. It also has aided in reaching out to the most marginalized pockets of Cuba’s populations, including the families of those persecuted by the communist regime for their beliefs and ideals.”

“Today [date not specified] we embark on a new chapter . . . [to focus on] the development of effective Christian leadership to promote Biblical truth while transforming communities. . . [and empowering] the in We collaborate with local leaders, seminaries and communities in the island to bring the Gospel to the masses.”

Yet another of its activities is “faith-based advocacy.” It correctly notes that Cuba was an “atheist state” and that during that period Christians suffered. It also claims that freedom of religion today on the island is “not fully available, and persecution of those who publicly profess a creed exists today.” [This statement is true for the period 1959-1992], but misleading on the years since then.]

EchoCuba also participates in the First Frontier Cuba Network, which “serves as a convening platform, which stewards and directs the investment of North American resources, time, energy and manpower wisely to directly respond to the continuing needs of the Cuban Church. [This Network] has been created to provide consultation and leadership to catalyze the right kind of change in Cuba, without harm, confusion, and fragmentation; and to be the voice of Cuban missiology that guides ministry action towards long-term and productive change for the Kingdom of God.”

The final activity listed on its website is “fighting Biblical poverty.” It claims in the last two decades, “Christianity has grown in Cuba in an unprecedented rate. With a population of 11 million, and only 10%-20% of that population being active Christians, the demand for Bibles is unlike any other point in history. For most Christians in Cuba, they feel isolated from the world. The government and its last of freedom restrict the ability of Christians to access the outside world through literature, internet, television even the distribution of Christian material including the Sword of God [the Bible]. In Cuba there are no places to buy or print Bibles on the island. However God always opens doors. Recently, easing of tensions between the United States and Cuba [with President Obama’s December 2014 opening to Cuba] after fifty years offers an unprecedented opportunity for the Church to receive bibles from international organizations like EchoCuba. Now, you can help Cubans discover the life and love of Jesus found in God’s Word. EchoCuba has vowed to bring the Gospel any way it can to God’s faithful servants in Cuba.”

The website also claims that “Churches in Cuba are not legally allowed to be constructed, [thereby forcing] God’s people . . . to operate through house churches, which hold no legal recognition from the government. Cuba has over 25,000 house churches on the island. The average house church holds an average of 20 to 40 members, on average only 5-10 bibles are available for the entire congregation. We believe that by providing Church leaders and seminarians with Bible and Scripture resources, even more people will experience the transformative power of God’s love for all of us. Our 2015 goal is to provide 5,000 bibles to Churches in Cuba.”

EchoCuba also is a member, since November 2007, of EFCA, which “provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability.”

EchoCuba’s Financial Support by USAID [2]

Although it is not mentioned on EchoCuba’s website, USAID, for fiscal 2009-2017, paid $2,302,464 to EchoCuba. Of this total, $1,033,582 was “for a three-year program entitled ‘Empowering Civil Society by Strengthening Economic Independence.’” Another $1,179,066 was for the Cuba Humanitarian Support Network, which was “aimed at providing “humanitarian aid to Cuba’s vulnerable religious leaders” and creating a “humanitarian network for the sustainable delivery of essential food and health supplies to marginalized Cubans and their family members.” In addition, EchoCuba to date has received at least $1,003,674 from USAID during the Trump presidency.

ECHOCuba’s Recent Activities in Cuba [3]

In late 2018, some Cuban evangelical churches, encouraged by EchoCuba and other U.S. conservative evangelical churches and organizations, registered strong objections to a provision of the proposed new Cuban Constitution that would have legalized same-sex marriage. According to Andrew Chestnut, Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, ““Both the moral and financial support of U.S. Evangelical denominations and agencies has been crucial to backing Cuban Evangelicals in their campaign to oppose gay marriage on the island.”

In response, in December 2018, the Cuban government withdrew that provision before the new constitution was approved in a national referendum.

This year, Cuban evangelical churches and groups, with the support of similar groups in the U.S., objected to Cuba’s version of a gay pride parade in May, resulting in its cancelation by the organizers of the event.

In July 2019, EchoCuba was involved in the creation of the Evangelical Alliance of Cuban Churches  as separate from the longstanding Cuban Council of Churches (CIC) on the ground that the latter did not represent their beliefs, including opposition to same-sex marriage. According to Elaine Saralegui Caraballo, a lesbian pastor and founder of a Cuban division of the Metropolitan Community Church, said, “The creation of this Alliance fosters a space of unity, from which the whole economic, spiritual, religious, and political force of the Christian fundamentalist churches will be deployed” and that the Alliance’s goal was to promote “Christian supremacy” with the guidance of the U.S. far right, in a similar manner as has occurred in other Latin American countries.”

EchoCuba as Source for State Department on Cuban Religious Freedom [4]

The latest State Department’s report on international religious freedom that was released in June 2019 contained many adverse allegations about that freedom in Cuba with only two principal stated sources, one of which was EchoCuba (without any disclosure about its funding by USAID).

That report contained the following statements about the evangelical or apostolic churches:

  • “There are approximately 4,000 followers of 50 Apostolic churches (an unregistered loosely affiliated network of Protestant churches, also known as the Apostolic Movement) and a separate New Apostolic Church associated with the New Apostolic Church International.  According to some Christian leaders, there is a marked growth of evangelical Protestant groups in the country.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the ORA [Communist Party’s’ Office of Religious Affairs] approved some registration applications, but it took as many as two to three years from the date of the application.  Other applications received no response or were denied without explanation, while some groups continued to wait for up to 25 years for a response.  EchoCuba said Apostolic churches repeatedly had their attempts to register denied, forcing these churches to operate without legal status.”
  • “In October leaders of Apostolic churches including Bernardo de Quesada, Alain Toledanos, and Marco Antonio Perdomo, issued an official statement on behalf of non-registered groups, which they said are ‘in practice discriminated against,’ urging the government to establish a new statute formally defining and granting the right to, and laying out procedures for, legal registration of religious organizations by the MOJ [Ministry of Justice].  The ORA and the MOJ did not announce any progress on revising the law on associations, announced in August 2017.”
  • “In March the New Apostolic Church, not affiliated with the many loosely affiliated Apostolic churches, registered with the MOJ.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the government continued to apply its system of rewarding churches that were obedient and sympathetic to “revolutionary values and ideals” and penalizing those that were not.  Similarly, the government continued to reward religious leaders who were cooperative with the government and threatened revocation of those rights for noncooperative religious leaders.  EchoCuba reported that, in exchange for their cooperation with the government, CCC members continued to receive benefits other non-member churches did not always receive, including building permits, international donations of clothing and medicine, and exit visas for pastors to travel abroad.  EchoCuba said individual churches and denominations or religious groups also experienced different levels of consideration by the government depending on the leadership of those groups and their relationship with the government.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the government continued to single out religious groups critical of the government, such as the unregistered Apostolic Movement, for particularly severe persecution, destroying their churches, confiscating properties, and banning travel of their pastors.  In contrast, the government allowed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also unregistered, to operate with little intervention because the Church continued to maintain a close relationship with the government and did not question the country’s laws.  Some religious leaders said the government continued to grant permits to buy properties for use as house churches, including in some cases when the titleholder to the property did not plan to live there.  Other religious groups said securing permission for the purchase or construction of new buildings remained difficult, if not impossible.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, government agencies regularly refused to recognize a change in residence for pastors and other church leaders assigned to a new church or parish.  A decree continued to place restrictions on internal movement and migration, making it difficult, if not impossible, for pastors and their families to register their new place of residence if they transferred to a church that lost its pastor due to death or retirement.  To engage with even the smallest of bureaucratic details, pastors refused the right to reregister needed to travel to wherever they were officially registered and submit the paperwork there.  Legal restrictions on travel within the country also limited itinerant ministry, a central component of some religious groups.  According to EchoCuba, the application of the decree to religious groups was likely part of the general pattern of government efforts to control their activities.  Some religious leaders said the decree was also used to block church leaders from travelling within the country to attend special events or meetings.  Church leaders associated with the Apostolic churches regularly reported they were prevented, sometimes through short-term detention, from travelling to attend church events or carry out ministry work.”

As pointed out in a prior post, this State Department report made only the following reference to the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC): ““Embassy officials met with the head of the Council of Cuban Churches, a government-registered organization with close ties to the government composed mostly of Protestant groups and associated with the World Council of Churches, to discuss its operations and programs.” (Exec. Summary.)

Criticism of U.S. Report on Cuban Religious Freedom [5]

This report’s ever so brief reference to the CIC, in this blogger’s judgment, is a major flaw in the U.S. report as the CIC was founded in 1941 and describes itself as “an ecumenical fellowship of churches and other Cuban Christian institutions, which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior, in accordance with the Scriptures and seek to realize their common vocation for the Glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The CIC promotes spaces for encounter, celebration, reflection, formation and joint actions of the churches and other Christian institutions, for the service to our people, as a visible expression of the ecumenism to which we are called by God in Jesus Christ.” Today the CIC’s membership includes 28 denominations, 10 fraternal associations and 14 ecumenical movements and centers.

Relevant here is CIC’s statement (on or about July 17, 2019) in response to the announced intent to create the previously mentioned Evangelical Alliance if Cuban Churches. “We want to reiterate to our people and their churches that the . . . [CIC], as it affirms in its Constitution, works under its motto ‘United to Serve‘ which states:

  • ‘We are a fellowship of churches, ecumenical movements and other Christian institutions that confess the Lord Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior, according to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and seek to realize their common vocation, the glory of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’
  • ‘Our mission is to provide spaces for meeting, celebration, reflection and formation of churches, ecumenical movements and other Christian institutions, as a visible expression of the unity to which God calls us in Jesus Christ, in the service of our people.’
  • ‘Encouraging the study, consultation and different areas of service in accordance with its purposes and functions; the cooperation of Christians in order to strengthen fraternal relations; enrich Christian life and witness; develop a sense of social responsibility and encourage participation in tasks of common interest for the evangelizing mission of the Church.’
  • ‘The Council, without authority over its members to determine issues of doctrine, government or worship, could be a mediating instance, provided that peace and goodness of the Body of Christ is sought, based on the best testimony to the world: the unity of the believers.’

Therefore, the CIC statement continued, “It is not for the [CIC], to rule on doctrinal issues that have been put on the public stage, nor to represent on this or any other issue, before the Cuban people and its authorities, the churches and organizations , members or not.” It then added the following:

  • “In Cuba all denominations enjoy religious freedom and are equal before the law, therefore each church or religious organization establishes the relations it deems with the authorities, and gives testimony before them and the Cuban people as understood from their understanding of the Faith.” (Emphasis added.)
  • “The Council of Churches, in adherence to the values ​​that its Constitution proclaims and in its vocation of service, has carried out mediating efforts since its foundation. And it has done so by sovereign decision of its members, from its governing bodies, without supplanting it, any rights of others.”
  • “On the contrary, in most cases, these efforts have benefited not only the churches and member organizations of the CIC, and in some, all the religious denominations and their practitioners on the island. Suffice it to mention the import and distribution of Bibles, and in the early 90s, their decisive contribution in the cessation of all forms of religious discrimination in Cuba.”
  • “God calls for unity in Christ our Lord, to serve and bear witness to the Gospel. Since its foundation 78 years ago, the . . . [CIC] has shown its fidelity to this call. Our fidelity is only to Jesus Christ, our Lord. There is no other Lord, neither here in our beloved Homeland, nor outside it, to which we MUST serve and adore.”
  • “The . . . [CIC] reaffirms its commitment to continue working for the unity of the churches. Serving the people and the nation, seeking together and together the paths of peace, faith and hope, the dignity of the people and the care of Creation, that help us to build and live the signs of the Kingdom of God: equality and love for all and all in the midst of our beloved country.”

Personal Testimony [6]

As a member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, which for the last 17 years has had a partnership with a sister church in Cuba, I have been on three mission trips to the island to visit our partner and other churches and the office of the CIC. I also have welcomed Cuban visitors to our church in Minneapolis, have discussed other members’ trips to the island, have read widely about many aspects of Cuban-U.S. history and have written many blog posts criticizing hostile U.S. policies and actions against Cuba and encouraging reconciliation and normalization of relations. As a result I now have many Cuban-Presbyterian friends and can testify that these churches and members as well as the CIC enjoy many aspects of religious freedom and embrace a warm and loving Christian faith.

Therefore, it is totally illegitimate for the State Department virtually to ignore the faith and work of these churches and members and of the CIC. It also is illegitimate for the Department and others in the U.S. government implicitly to assume that some U.S. notions of religious freedom should apply to Cuba without considering the vast differences in economic circumstances. This especially is true with respect to building new church buildings. Like the U.S., construction permits are needed in Cuba for new buildings, religious and otherwise. That does not make such construction illegal, as is claimed in the previously mentioned State Department report. Moreover, the granting of such permits in Cuba is inhibited by limitations on the island’s financial resources.

Although I did not visit Cuba during the period of its close relationship with the Soviet Union, until 1992, it is true that Christians and other religious people were discriminated against. However, Cuba did not assassinate or disappear religious opponents of the regime as was done by the right-wing government of El Salvador in the 1980’s. On one of my trips to our partner church on the island, one of the members told me that she had not been brave enough to have been a Christian during those prior years. Another member told me that he had been in seminary with the pastor of our partner, but he had left the Cuban church in order to become a public school teacher. Now that he was retired, he again freely could attend church.

After the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba adopted a more conciliatory position towards religion and lessened its promotion of atheism. In November 1991 the Communist Party began to allow believers into its ranks, and in July 1992, the constitution was amended to remove the definition of Cuba as being a state based on Marxism–Leninism, and article 42 was added, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of religious belief. Another important change after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the increased acceptance of religion in Cuba, several Protestant pastors became members of the National Assembly, two of whom I have met: Rev. Sergio Arce, a Presbyterian-Reformed pastor, and Rev. Raúl Suarez, a Baptist pastor.[ii]

In 2004 the first Greek Orthodox Cathedral opened in Havana; shortly thereafter I visited the island and saw flags welcoming Greek Orthodox Archbishop Bartholomew to the city while my Presbyterian delegation delivered an icon to the new Cathedral from a Minneapolis’ Greek Orthodox Church. Four years later, in 2008, the first Russian Orthodox Church was opened in Havana during an official ceremony attended by then President Raúl Castro. Three Popes have visited the island: Pope John Paul II (1998), Pope Benedict XVI (2012) and Pope Francis (2015).[iii]

Nevertheless, it must be noted that upon the recent appointment of Monsignor Juan de la Caridad as the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Havana, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba lamented that the Catholic Church on the island does not have schools, universities, newspapers, radio stations or welfare centers while less than 3% of the population attends Sunday Mass even though at least half confess being of that faith.[iv]

The recent State Department report on Cuban religious freedom also blindly accepts assertions by EchoCuba and Christian Solidarity Worldwide about alleged Cuban discrimination and persecution of various evangelical churches, especially when at least EchoCuba receives USAID funds. The U.S. government should not forget or ignore that the State Department and USAID over the years have helped finance so-called U.S. “democracy promotion” efforts on the island that in reality were efforts at “regime change.” As a result, it is reasonable for Cuba to exercise close surveillance of the activities of such organizations.

Conclusion [7]

As someone who strives to follow Jesus as a member of a Presbyterian Church, I am glad to see the U.S. emphasizing the importance of religious freedom around the world. However, given the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election and the support for Trump in the last election by many U.S. evangelical leaders and groups, one has to wonder whether current U.S. hostility towards Cuba and the Trump Administration programs like the new U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and the first two of promised annual Ministerials on International Religious Freedom are really designed to solidify that U.S. domestic political support for the re-election of Donald Trump.

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[1] EchoCuba; Castro Morales, Who is Teo Babún and why is he going after Cuba? Granma (Feb. 21, 2019); Sanchez, The ‘charity’ made in Miami and the strange faith of ECHOCuba, The Insomniac Pupil (April 18, 2011).

[2] Eaton, God, USAID and Cuba, Cuba Money Project (Nov. 20, 2018); Eaton, Cuba spending under Trump, Cuba Money Project (June 17, 2019); Eaton, Lawmakers want $20 million for Cuba projects in 2020, Cuba Money Project (June 21, 2019;); AmericasReliefTeam, Cuban Humanitarian Support Network. The Cuba Money Project is a U.S. “journalism initiative aimed at reporting stories about U.S. government programs and projects related to Cuba” that is operated by Tracey Eaton, a journalist and former Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

[3] Bodenheimer, How American Evangelicals Helped Stop Same-Sex Marriage in Cuba, VICE (April 20, 2019)

[4] State Dep’t, 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom: Cuba (June 21, 2019); State Department’s Latest Report on International Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (June 25, 2019); U.S. State Department Unfairly Criticizes Cuban Religious Freedom, dwkcommenaries.com (July 18, 2019).

[5] Background on the Cuban Council of Churches; World Council of Churches, Cuban Council of Churches; Joint Statement of the Cuban Council of Churches and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (Apr. 25, 2019); Larkman, Cuba contingent hopes to further partnership between U.S., Cuban churches (Nov. 13, 2017); Reformed Presbyterian Church in Cuba, Wikipedia

[6] E.g., Praise God for Leading U.S. and Cuba to Reconciliation, dwkcommentareis.com (Dec. 22, 2014); The Cuban Revolution and Religion, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 30, 2011); posts listed in the “Pope Francis Visits to Cuba & U.S., 2015” section of List of Post to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA; Bishops lament that the Catholic church lacks a ‘massive social presence in Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (Sept. 3, 2019).

[7] See posts  to dwkcommentaries about the Commission on Unalienable Rights; U.S. State Department’s First Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom, dwkcommentries.com  (July 7, 2019); U.S. State Department’s Second Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom , dwkcommentaries.com(July 21, 2019); Realpolitik Analysis of U.S. Ministerial To Advance Religious Liberty and U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 23, 2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Castro Morales, Who is Teo Babún and why is he going after Cuba?, Granma (Feb. 21, 2019); Sanchez, The ‘charity’ made in Miami and the strange faith of ECHOCuba, The Insomniac Pupil (April 18, 2011); EchoCuba, About US; ECFA, ECHOCuba.

[2] Eaton, God, USAID and Cuba, Cuba Money Project (Nov. 20, 2018); Eaton, Cuba spending under Trump, Cuba Money Project (June 17, 2019); Eaton, Lawmakers want $20 million for Cuba projects in 2020, Cuba Money Project (June 21, 2019); AmericasReliefTeam, Cuban Humanitarian Support Network. The Cuba Money Project is a U.S. “journalism initiative aimed at reporting stories about U.S. government programs and projects related to Cuba” that is operated by Tracey Eaton, a journalist and former Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

[3] Bodenheimer, How American Evangelicals Helped Stop Same-Sex Marriage in Cuba, VICE (April 20, 2019).

 

 

 

 

Mexican Historian’s Disavowal of Support for Fidel Castro

Enrique Krauze, a Mexican public intellectual, historian, author, producer and publisher, has written at least two fascinating essays about U.S.-Cuba relations.

U.S. Cuba at the Start of Obama’s Opening to Cuba [1]

Less than a month after the December 17, 2014, joint announcement of the U.S.-Cuba decision to seek better relations, [2] Krauze wrote that “Cuba has been the epicenter of anti-Americanism in modern Latin America. As a political ideology it was born during the Spanish-American War of 1898 [3]  [and] reached its height with the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.” Between those two years, “with some exceptions, the political, diplomatic and military balance sheet of the United States in Latin America was nothing short of disastrous.” In response, “the region . . . [had] a surge of nationalism.“

The success of the Cuban Revolution “opened a new cycle of intense anti-Americanism. . . . The rage thus engendered was the most effective weapon of survival for the repressive and dictatorial Cuban regime.” But the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the rise of democratic governments in some Latin American countries resulted in the [orphaning] of Latin American Marxists. “Only the great obstacle of the American boycott of Cuba has remained an outmoded and divisive force.”

“In [Obama’s] re-establishing relations with Cuba, the United States renounced its ‘imperial destiny’ and recovers much of the moral legitimacy needed to uphold the democratic values that led to its foundation (and also of the countries of Latin America). Obama’s action is meant for the good of all the Americas, including the United States. And freedom of expression in Cuba is an absolute necessity for its success. No people or country is an island unto itself. The Castro dynasty has kept Cuba as such for 56 years.”

Moreover, “acclaim for the [new] agreement is widespread in Latin America. By his historic announcement on Dec. 17, Obama has begun to dismantle one of the most deeply rooted ideological passions of the southern continent” and may have “begun the final decline” of Anti-Americanism in Latin America.

Krauze’s Disavowal of Fidel Castro [4]

According to Krauze, the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 “inspired political awareness in almost all the [Mexican] writers, activists and intellectuals of my generation [including Krauze himself]. Our university professors, contemporaries of Castro, saw in him the definitive vindication of [José Marti’s] ‘Our America’ against the other, arrogant and imperialist, America. The literary supplements and magazines we read — by Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes — celebrated the Revolution not only for its economic and social achievements, but also for the cultural renaissance it ushered in.”

Krauze’s enthusiasm for Fidel Castro turned to disappointment in 1968-69 when Cuba supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia while Mexican tanks were combatting student movements in Mexico. Yet it still was difficult in Mexico to criticize Cuba.

In 1980 Krauze had his “final break with Fidel Castro” when “hundreds of people stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana, seeking asylum” and “more than 100,000 Cubans left the port of Mariel for the United States, revealing a fracture in Castro’s utopia.”

In July 2009 Krauze visited Cuba “and was captivated by its natural beauty and the ingenuity and warmth of its people” and discovered in books that before the Revolution, “Cuba had a rich and diversified economy. In 1957, Cuba had around 6,000,000 heads of cattle, well above the world’s per capita average. . . . [In short] Cuba was already one of the most advanced countries in Latin America in 1959.”

But in 2009, “cows are so scarce that killing one carries a multiyear prison sentence. Not too long ago, in order to eat beef legally, farmers ‘accidentally’ sacrificed them by tying them to train tracks.”

At his trial in 1953, “Fidel famously declared, ‘History will absolve me.’ That’s no longer a sure thing. An awareness of freedom awakens sooner or later when faced with the obvious excesses of authoritarian rulers. If history examines his regretful legacy through that lens, it may not absolve him.”

With few exceptions, “Latin American historians and intellectuals . . . have refused to see the historical failure of the Cuban Revolution and the oppressive and impoverishing domination of their patriarch. But the parlous situation in Venezuela — with Cuba as a crutch — is undeniable, and the Cuban reality will be increasingly hard to bear. This has been Lenin’s decade. Perhaps the next one will belong to [Cuban patriot José] Martí.”

President Obama’s opening to Cuba in December 2014 inspired hopes that this would come to pass. “Unfortunately, the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, has marred any possibility of conciliation, which has further isolated Cuba and so perpetuated Castroism.”

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[1] Krauze, End of Anti-Americanism?, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2015).

[2] U.S. and Cuba Embark on Reconciliation, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 21, 2014).

[3] U.S. Intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence from Spain, 1898, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 26, 2019); U.S. De Facto Protectorate of Cuba, 1898-1934, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 27, 2019).

[4] Krauze, My Sixty Years of Disappointment with Fidel Castro, N.Y. Times (Aug. 21, 2019

President Eisenhower and U.S. Covert Plan Against Cuba

The U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian has published two important and largely declassified documents relating to the initial U.S. (Eisenhower Administration) response in 1959-60  to the Cuban Revolution. Here are summaries of those documents.

“A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime”[1]      .

The author of this document, dated March 16, 1960, was the 5412 Committee, which was “the name given to the group assigned responsibility for the planning and conduct of covert operations” and whose “working methods and the people who compose it should be protected.” After its name apparently was published in a 1964 book, The Invisible Government by David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, the name was changed to an “utterly drab and innocuous” name, the 303 Committee, without altering its “composition, function or responsibility.”[2]

The “Objective” of this proposed covert program was “to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention. Essentially the method of accomplishing this end will be to induce, support, and so far as possible direct action, both inside and outside of Cuba, by selected groups of Cubans of a sort that they might be expected to and could undertake on their own initiative.”

This proposed program to be undertaken by the CIA had the following four “major courses of action:”

  • The “creation of a responsible, appealing and unified Cuban opposition to the Castroregime, publicly declared as such and therefore necessarily located outside of Cuba.”
  • “So that the opposition may be heard and Castro’s basis of popular support undermined, it is necessary to develop the means for mass communication to the Cuban people so that a powerful propaganda offensive can be initiated in the name of the declared opposition. The major [proposed] tool . . . is a long and short wave gray broadcasting facility. . . “ [3]
  • “Work is already in progress in the creation of a covert intelligence and action organization within Cuba which will be responsive to the orders and directions of the ‘exile’ opposition.”
  • ”Preparations have already been made for the development of an adequate paramilitary force outside of Cuba, together with mechanisms for the necessary logistic support of covert military operations on the Island. . . . [This force will] be available for immediate deployment into Cuba to organize, train and lead resistance forces recruited there both before and after the establishment of one or more active centers of resistance. . . . [A] limited air capability for resupply and for infiltration and exfiltration already exists under CIA”[4]

President Eisenhower’s Approval of the Program of Covert Action[5]

CIA Director Allen Dulles presented a summary of the above Plan for Covert Action at a White House meeting on March 17, 1960.

In response, President Eisenhower said, “he knows of no better plan for dealing with this situation. The great problem is leakage and breach of security. Everyone must be prepared to swear that he has not heard of it. He said we should limit American contacts with the groups involved to two or three people, getting Cubans to do most of what must be done.  . . . [The President] understood that the effort will be to undermine Castro’s position and prestige.”

The President  “told Mr. Dulles . . . [to] go ahead with the plan and the operations.” The President, however, added, “that, as he saw it, Castro the Revolutionary had gained great prestige in Latin America. Castro the Politician running the government is now losing it rapidly. However, governments elsewhere cannot oppose him too strongly since they are shaky with respect to the potentials of action by the mobs within their own countries to whom Castro’s brand of demagoguery appeals. Essentially the job is to get the OAS to support us.”

Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Anderson,  said “Castro is trying to inflame Cuban opinion and create an incident against the Americans which would touch off attacks on Americans in Cuba which might result in the death of thousands. The President stated that once . . . [the paramilitary invasion] gets started, there will be great danger to the Americans in Cuba.” Anderson added, “that if Cuba is to seize the Nicaro plant [6]  or other U.S. Government property, we could not stand on the sidelines. In response to a question by the President, it was brought out that there is no treaty on this, and that Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given.” (Emphasis added.)[7]

In addition to those already mentioned,  this meeting was attended by the following officials: Vice President Richard Nixon; Secretary of State Christian Herter; John N. Irwin, II, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations; General Goodpastor, White House Staff Secretary;  Major John Eisenhower, Assistant Staff Secretary to the President (and the President’s son); Colonel J.C. King, Chief of CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division; Livingston T. Merchant, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Mr. Roy R. Rubottom, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs; Richard Bissel, CIA Deputy Director for Plans; and Gordon Gray, U.S. National Security Advisor.

Other Eisenhower Administration Documents About Cuba[8]

The above documents are contained in a collection of 629 documents published in 1991 by the State Department’s Office of the Historian. It is available online and contains the following parts:

  1. U.S. interest in the Cuban revolution, the overthrow of the Batista government, and the consolidation of power by Fidel Castro, reevaluation by the U.S. Government of the policy of shipping arms to the Batista government, January-June 1958 (Documents 1-68).
  2. Kidnapping of U.S. citizens by Cuban rebels, June-July 1958 (Documents 69-106).
  3. Continuing violence during the Cuban electoral campaign and reappraisal by the U.S. Government of its support of the Batista government (Documents 107-151).
  4. Fall of the Batista government, November-December 1958 (Documents 152-206).
  5. Fidel Castro’s assumption of power, January-April 1959 (Documents 207-272).
  6. Visit to the United States by Prime Minister Castro, April 1959 (Documents 273-305).
  7. The Cuban Government’s promulgation of an agrarian reform law, and the question of asylum for Batista, May-October 1959 (Documents 306-369).
  8. Adoption by the Department of State and the Eisenhower administration of a revised policy toward Cuba, October 1959-January 1960 (Documents 370-423).
  9. Recall of Ambassador Bonsal and formulation within the U.S. Government of a program of covert action against the Castro government, January -April 1960 (Documents 424-498).
  10. Inauguration by the U.S. Government of a policy to weaken the Cuban economy, April-July 1960 (Documents 499-548).
  11. Response by the United States and the Organization of American States to signs of increased Soviet support for the Cuban government, July-September 1960 (Documents 549-580).
  12. Consideration by the U.S. Government of possible severance of diplomatic relations with Cuba, September-December 1960 (Documents 581-629).

Conclusion

A reasonably informed student of U.S. history already would know that in the early months of the Kennedy Presidency in 1961 the U.S. supported an unsuccessful paramilitary invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) and that this operation had been planned in the later days of the Eisenhower Administration. Thus, the above documents from the earlier administration merely provide details on its planning for this invasion.  In addition, these two documents indicate that the earlier administration  was actively engaged in trying to create, on the island and elsewhere, a Cuban opposition to Castro and a covert intelligence and action organization on the island; as well as a radio propaganda program whose signals would be sent to the island. These facets also are not surprising given what we already knew about this period.

This understanding of the historical context also may partially explain the cursory treatment of these two documents in an excellent and well documented book about the U.S. and Cuba by U.S. experts on Cuba, William M. Leo Grande and Peter Kornbluh: Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2014). However, as the book’s title suggests, its focus is on negotiations between the two countries, not on what was happening that led to negotiations. In any event, here is what is what this book said about these two documents:

  • “On March 17,. . . Eisenhower signed a top secret authorization for ‘A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,’ giving the CIA the green light to begin covert paramilitary operations to roll back the Cuban revolution.” This was the same day that Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós, rejected “ a feeler” put forward by a legal advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Mario Lazo, to Cuban Treasury Minister López-Fresque that the U.S. “was prepared to work aggressively to halt that exile flights from Florida that were burning Cuban sugar cane fields . . . if the Cubans , in return, would be prepared to engage in serious talks on a broad range of issues.” (Pp. 33-34)
  • The Covert Plan of March 1960, as quoted above, called for the development of a TOP SECRET paramilitary force to invade Cuba which in fact happened in April 1961 in the early days of the John F. Kennedy Administration. The LeoGrande and Kornbluh book merely states the following: “as president-elect, [Kennedy] . . . was briefed by the CIA on Eisenhower’s covert paramilitary project to invade Cuba with an exile brigade. As president, [Kennedy] . . . ignored the entreaties of several Latin American governments that, at Cuba’s behest, tried to intercede at the last minute to broker a U.S.-Cuba dialogue before the Bay of Pigs invasion. Instead, Kennedy gave the green light, sending a CIA-led paramilitary exile force at Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs] on April 17, 1961, in the hope that the invaders would somehow spark a popular uprising. They didn’t, and within seventy-two hours, the brigade’s beachhead had collapsed; more than twelve hundred of them were taken prisoner.” (Pp. 42-43.)[9]

These two documents also recently were referred or alluded to by a Cuban source.[10]  However, these references were merely jumping-off places for a diatribe against the U.S. Some of these other points may be justified, but they would need to be analyzed, carefully and dispassionately. Moreover, this Cuban source ignores the progress that was made in addressing these and other issues in the two countries’ bilateral meetings in 2015-16.[11]

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[1]  Paper Prepared by the 5412 Committee (Mar. 16, 1960) (# 481).

[2] National Security Action Memorandum No. 303 (June 2, 1964).

[3] In 1983 President Ronald Reagan established Radio Marti, whose mission was to hasten the fall of Cuban President Fidel Castro and communism on the island. (Radio Marti, Wikipedia.)

[4] This is an obvious reference to the paramilitary force that invaded Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in April 1961 during the Kennedy Administration.

[5] Memorandum of a Conference With the President, White House, Washington, March 17, 1960, 2:30 p.m.

[6]  During WWII, the U.S. government built a nickel processing plant near Nicaro, Cuba under a U.S.-Cuba treaty that exempted the plant from Cuban taxes. The plant was closed after the war in 1947, but reopened with improvements in 1952. After the Cuban Revolution took control of the country’s government in January 1959, Cuba that same year adopted a new mining law imposing sharply increased taxes on mining and export of minerals. In protest the U.S. stopped shipments from the plant in December 1959. Thereafter Fidel and Che made frequent verbal attacks on the U.S. over the plant; and in October 1960 Cuba nationalized the plant. (Bart, Flow of Nickel from Cuba Halts, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 1959); U.S. Nickel Plant Hindered in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 25, 1960); NICARO Talks to Reopen, N.Y. Times (Aug. 2, 1960); Soviet Mission in Cuba: Group Plans Help to Reopen U.S. Nicaro Nickel Plant, N.Y.Times (Nov. 30, 1960); Veloz Placencia, Che’s passion for the nickel industry, Granma (Aug. 23, 2017).

[7] This admission by a top U.S. government official in 1960 that “Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given” should not be forgotten in the ongoing dispute over Cuban compensation for its expropriation of U.S.-owned property in Cuba and the U.S. recent steps to allow enforcement of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. It also must be remembered that Cuba over the years repeatedly has admitted  that it has such an obligation under international law, that Cuba has resolved similar claims by other countries and that in various U.S.-Cuba discussions in 2015-16 the two parties exchanged information about compensation for such properties. Finally it cannot be forgotten that Cuba does not have the financial resources to make such compensation in full.

[8] In more than 450 individual volumes the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian has published Foreign Relations of the United States series to offer the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity.”

[9] In a footnote LeoGrande and Kornbluh say the best account of the Bay of Pigs disaster is Peter Wyden, Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1979). See also Kornbluh, Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba (National Security Archive Documents)(New York, The New Press, 1998)

[10] Escuela, Cuba denounces war on our people, Granma (May 22, 2019).

[11] See posts listed in the “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2015” and “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2016” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

 

 

National Security Advisor Bolton Discusses New U.S. Sanctions Against Cuba

On April 17, as discussed in a prior post, the U.S. State Department 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.

Later that same day in a Miami speech National Security Advisor John Bolton  proudly announced that “President Trump decided to END the Helms-Burton Title III Waivers, once and for all and that under Title IV of Helms-Burton no U.S. visas would be issued to “anyone who traffics in property stolen from Americans.” In addition, Bolton announced additional anti-Cuba measures.[1] As noted in a prior post, Bolton’s hostility towards Cuba is not new.

The Additional New Sanctions

The additional new sanctions announced by Bolton are the following:

  • Remittances from Cubans in the U.S. to family members on the island will be reduced by the U.S. Treasury Department to $1,000 per person [payor or payee?] per quarter. According to Bolton, the unlimited remittances permitted by the Obama Administration had allowed the Cuban government to evade U.S. sanctions and obtain access to hard currencies.
  • “Non-family travel” or “veiled tourism” to Cuba will be subject to new (and unspecified) restrictions in order to “steer American dollars away from the Cuban regime, or its military and security services, who control the tourism industry in Cuba.” (However, there still are 12 categories of permissible U.S. nationals travel to Cuba under Treasury Department regulations.)
  • The State Department will add five companies to its Cuba Restricted List, including Aerogaviota, an airline controlled by Gaviota, a group of tourism-relative companies controlled by the Cuban Armed Forces.[2]
  • The U.S. Treasury Department will adopt new regulations to “end the use of “U-turn transactions,” which allow the regime to circumvent sanctions and obtain access to hard currency and the U.S. banking system.”

Bolton’s Remarks

Bolton, once again, referred to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as the “troika of tyranny” and their leaders as “the three stooges of socialism.” They all now are “beginning to crumble” and the U.S. “looks forward to watching each corner of this sordid triangle of terror fail.”

While accusing Cuba of propping up Venezuela’s Maduro with thousands of security force members in the country, Bolton also warned “all external actors, including Russia, against deploying military assets to Venezuela to prop up the Maduro regime.”. The United States will consider “such provocative actions a threat to international peace and security in the region.” Bolton noted  that Moscow recently sent in military flights carrying 35 tons of cargo and a hundred personnel.

In short, from Bolton’s perspective, “the destinies of our nations will not be dictated by foreign powers; they will be shaped by the people who call this Hemisphere hme. Today, we proudly proclaim for all to hear: the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well.” (Emphasis added.)

In addition, Bolton had harsh words for President Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. The National Security Advisor said, “Tragically, the Obama administration’s misguided Cuba policy provided the Cuban regime with the necessary political cover to expand its malign influence and ideological imperialism across the region.” He added, “In no uncertain terms, the Obama administration’s policies toward Cuba have enabled the Cuban colonization of Venezuela today.” The Trump Administration’s changes were designed to reverse “the disastrous Obama-era policies, and finally end the glamorization of socialism and communism.”

“To justify its policy of normalizing relations with Cuba, President Obama said Cuba (quote) ‘poses no genuine threat.’ Tell that to the American diplomats who were attacked in Havana. Tell that to the terrorized people of Venezuela. The reality is that the Obama government sought to normalize relations with a tyrannical dictatorship.”  In contrast, Bolton reminded his audience that Trump met with Cuban opposition activists like the Ladies in White and called the late Fidel Castro “a brutal dictator.”

Bolton also implicitly criticized Obama by saying “Naïve beliefs have now given way to clear-eyed common sense. We are no longer surrendering American liberty in the name of global governance. We are no longer selling out our friends to appease our adversaries. [We] are no longer sacrificing the interests of the American people to pursue idealistic fantasies—in Havana, Tehran, or anywhere else.”

After reciting the U.S. and allies’ efforts regarding Venezuela, Bolton said when Maduro falls, “we know that Cuba will be next.”

“Let me be clear: The Trump administration will NEVER, EVER abandon you,” Bolton said. “We will need your help in the days ahead. We must all reject the forces of communism and socialism in this hemisphere — and in this country.”

The Ignominious Timing and Location of the Announcement

Bolton intentionally and ignominiously chose the date and location for this announcement. Last week Bolton tweeted, “[I am] Pleased to announce that I will be joining the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association on April 17 in Miami to deliver remarks on the important steps being taken by the Administration to confront security threats related to Cuba, Venezuela, and the democratic crisis in Nicaragua.”

The date, April 17, was the 58th anniversary of the U.S. disastrous invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón). Recall that this failed military invasion of Cuba was undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-sponsored paramilitary group Brigade 2506.  The U.S. gravely underestimated the force-power in Cuba and consequently led their troops to their own destruction. The U.S.-sponsored combatants were members of a counter-revolutionary military group (made up of mostly Cuban exiles who had traveled to the U.S. after Castro’s takeover plus some U.S. military personnel).This invading force was defeated within three days by the Cuba Revolutionary Armed Forces under the direct command of Fidel Castro.[3]

The location of Bolton’s remarks was  the Miami gathering of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association. In his remarks Bolton paid them homage. He compared the aging Cuban Americans to “the brave men of Bunker Hill, Belleau Wood and Normandy,” and said the new measures were being undertaken to “honor your courage . . . by boldly confronting the evils of socialism and communism in the hemisphere.”

In his remarks, Bolton said, “This is just the beginning. As long as the people of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua stand for freedom, the United States will stand with them. The remarkable story of Brigade 2506 helped inspire President Trump’s hard-hitting Cuba policy. During the 2016 campaign, he visited you here in Miami, he heard your heroic accounts, he saw your stirring pictures and today he is proud to stand by your side.”

“Together, we can finish what began on those beaches, on those famous days in April, 58 years ago today,” Bolton said to rousing applause from the aging brigade members who backed Trump in 2016 when he narrowly won the state.

Conclusion

Bolton’s vigorous embrace of the Monroe Doctrine is outrageous. That Doctrine is a self-proclaimed right to intervene militarily and otherwise in any other country in the Western Hemisphere when a U.S. president deems it appropriate.  From a Latin America perspective it was often seen as a U.S. license to intervene at will in other countries’ internal affairs and is contrary to international law. It, therefore, was entirely appropriate for then Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013 to state that “ the Monroe Doctrine is dead once and for all.”[4]

Also inappropriate was Bolton’s criticism of President Obama’s adoption of policies to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations. I thought and still think that was one of his administration’s greatest accomplishments.[5]

Another objection needs to be registered to Bolton’s comments about the Bay of Pigs. The U.S. financed, organized and ineptly assisted the Bay of Pigs invasion, I always have regarded it as horrible stain on U.S. relations with Cuba that repeatedly needs to be denounced.

Future posts will look at reactions to these U.S. policies from Cuba, the U.S. and other countries.

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

[1] This post was updated after discovering on April 20 the text of Bolton’s speech on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba.  See U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Ambassador Bolton Bay of Pigs Veterans Asociation-Brigade 2506 (April 17, 2019); Gámez Torres, Bolton coming to Miami to discuss U.S. action on Miami to discuss action on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, Miami Herald (April 12, 2019); Solomon, Reichmann & Lee (AP), Trump Cracks Down on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); DeYoung, Trump administration announces new measures against Cuba, Wash. Post (April 17, 2019); Bolton announces new sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, Wash. Post  (Jan. 17. 2019 (partial video of Bolton’s remarks); Gámez Torres, U.S. restricts travel, remittances to Cuba as part of a new policy under Trump, Miami Herald (April 17, 2019).

[2] These five entities were added to the Cuba Restricted List on April 24, 2019: State Dep’t, Department of State Updates the Cuba Restricted List (April 24, 2019); State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated with Cuba as of April 24, 2019 (April 24, 2019). See also these posts to dwkcommentarie.com: New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities (Nov. 8, 2017); More Cuban Businesses Forbidden to U.S. Visitors (Nov. 16, 2018); U.S. Authorizes U.S. Litigation Against Entities on Cuba Restricted List (Mar. 5, 2019); Cuba Modifies Its Cuba Restricted List (Mar. 13, 2019).

[3] Bay of Pigs Invasion, Wikipedia; Brigade 2506: Official Site of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association.

[4] Johnson, Kerry Makes It Official: ‘Era of Monroe Doctrine Is Over,’ W.S.J. (Nov. 18, 2013).

[5] See posts listed in the “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2014,” “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2015,” “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2016,” and “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2017” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

 

Cuba’s Success and Problems with an Aging, Declining Population

One of the successes of the Cuban Revolution has been better health care for average Cubans and thus their increasing life spans. Simultaneously, however, the number of younger Cubans has been declining. The result, Cuba has a declining, aging population that is now the oldest in Latin America,

The average life expectancy for a Cuban man is 76.8 years and 81.3 years for a woman, according to 2018 data from the World Health Organization. To address the challenges of this changing demography, the Cuban government has made the following changes:

  • Several years ago, the Cuban government began to progressively raise its retirement age from 60 to 65 for men and from 55 to 60 for women. It also allowed people to collect their pensions and still work.
  • In December 2018, the government raised the minimum pension from 200 Cuban pesos to 249 Cuban pesos, which amounts to less than $10. Many pensioners complain they are barely getting by.
  • Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health provides funding for Círculos de Abuelos (Grandparents Circles), which provide adult daycare for the elderly with meals, games, conversation and socialization.

On the other hand, Cuba’s low fertility rate and birth rate are seen as markers of low confidence in Cuba’s future. The same is shown by high out-migration of younger Cubans looking for a better life and future prospects in other countries. Nor is Cuba attracting in-migration of younger people from other countries for the same reason.

In short, for this aging U.S. gringo, Cuba needs to adopt policies that give younger Cubans solid reasons to believe that their future on the island will be better. And that is not more of the same.

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

Whitefield, ‘Circulos de Abuelos’ serve Cuba’s rapidly aging population—the oldest in the Americas, Miami Herald (Mar. 7, 2019); Cuban Realities Adversely Affecting Normalization with the U.S., dwkcommenaries.com (Nov. 12, 2015).

U.N. Human Rights Council’s Final Consideration of Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review 

On September 21, 2018, the U.N. Human Rights Council held a meeting in its 39th regular session. An important item on the agenda was the final review of the latest Universal Periodic Reviews of the human rights records of three more states, including Cuba.[1]

Just before this session, the Council provided an Addendum to Cuba’s national report that listed its responses to the 339 recommendations that had been made by other U.N. Members and Stakeholders. Of these 339 recommendations,  Cuba had “supported” (accepted or noted) 309, and rejected 30 in the following categories[2]

Recommendations Rejections
Improve freedoms of assembly & association  13.0
End arbitrary detentions    4.0
Release prisoners of conscience    3.0
Recognize rights of political activists    2.0
Respect independent media    2.0
Allow independent monitoring of detention    1.5
Establish independent judiciary    1.5
Allow complaints to treaty bodies    1.0
Allow multiparty elections (U.S.)    1.0
End coercive labor    0.5
Increase laws against human trafficking    0.5
TOTAL 30.0

Cuba’s Ambassador, Pedro Pedrosa, made  introductory and concluding statements that included the following comments:

  • Cuba had rejected 30 of the recommendations because they were “politically skewed” and some reflected the “hegemonic ambitions of some [the U.S.] to undermine Cuban systems.” He also condemned the U.S. embargo (blockade) as a “massive, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights.”
  • For Cuba, ratification of an international treaty is a “very serious process” and is never made under pressure, again referring to the “hostile policies of the U.S. against the Cuban people.”
  • Cuba is against the death penalty and has not had an execution since 1923. However, it needs to keep the death penalty because of terrorism.
  • Cuba has a “system of independent courts to insure “ respect for human rights.
  • In 2017 Cuba welcomed two international human rights monitors (human trafficking and international solidarity).
  • Cuba calls for democracy and international governance of the Internet and the end of the digital divide and monopolies of these technologies.
  • Cuba is proud of the accomplishments of its Revolution and its contributions to the broadening of human rights.
  • Reforms in Cuba can only happen with true international and impartial cooperation.
  • The UPR process should not be a forum for attacks or proposals by foreign powers [U.S.].
  • Cuba rejects “rash” comments at this session by the World Evangelical Alliance and the Christianity Global Solidarity because they ignore the Cuban reality of religious freedom and right to change religion. Nevertheless, he invited these organizations to visit Cuba.
  • He also criticized the comments from Amnesty International and U.N. Watch.

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[1]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council,  Documentation (39th Regular Session). Previous posts about the current (and other) Cuba UPRs are listed in the “Cuban Human Rights” section of  List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[2]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cuba: Addendum (Sept. 18, 2018) (views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review).

 

 

Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review Hearing by the U.N. Human Rights Council

On May 16, the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland held a 210-minute public hearing on its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cuba’s human rights record. The hearing consisted of Cuba’s report by its Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, and other Cuban officials; comments and recommendations by 140 countries (50 seconds each for a total of approximately 117 minutes); and responses by the Cuban officials.

Before the hearing,, the Council received Cuba’s human rights report, a summary of U.N. information about Cuba, reports from stakeholders (human rights organizations and others); and advance questions from some U.N. Members. The  224 submissions from stakeholders, for example, included around 17 that said Cuba’s constitutional and legislative framework “guaranteed the enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The Cuban Human Rights Observatory, and others, on the other hand, said that Cuba had not undertaken any reforms to promote the exercise of political freedoms.[1]

Cuban Government’s Report[2]

From the times of the US military occupation, which severed our independence, under the governments it imposed, 45 per cent of children did not attend schools; 85 per cent of persons lacked running water; farmers lived in abject poverty without ever owning the land they tilled and immigrants were brutally exploited. In Cuba [during those years], workers and farmers had no rights.  Extrajudicial execution, enforced disappearances and torture were recurrent.  Discrimination based on the color of the skin was brutal; poverty was rampant and women and girls were even more excluded.  The dignity of Cubans was tarnished and Cuba’s national culture was trampled upon.” (Emphasis added.)

“The Cuban Revolution led by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruiz transformed that reality and continues to strive to improve the quality of life, wellbeing and social justice for all of our people, thus implementing all human rights. That willingness to protect human dignity, provide equal opportunities and ‘conquer all the justice,’ has remained unchanged and unswerving until today.”

“Our country has continued to take steps to further improve its economic and social development model with the purpose of building a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation by strengthening the institutional structure of our political system, which is genuinely participatory and enjoys full popular support.”

In accordance with the Constitution, we have continued to strengthen the legal and institutional framework for the protection and promotion of those rights, and we have introduced modifications and proposals adapted to the needs and realities of the Cuban society and international standards. The attention to citizens has been equally improved by means of the expansion of the mechanisms, ways and recourses in the hands of the population to denounce any  infringement of the legal system or their rights; file claims or petitions to the competent authorities; channel up their opinions and concerns and actively participate in the adoption of government decisions.”

The Foreign Minister then provided more details about Cuba’s “protection of the right to life. . .; law enforcement authorities . . . [being] subject to rigorous control processes and popular scrutiny.; . . .There has been no impunity in the very few cases of abuses involving law enforcement agents and officials;” no traffic in firearms; continued strengthening of “people’s participation in government decision-making and the exercise of the freedoms recognized under the Constitution and the law;” increased “effectiveness of the control exercised by all citizens over the activity of state organs, elected representatives and public officials;” advancing “the promotion of the right to full equality; in the struggle against elements of discrimination based on the color of the skin and against women;” and  increasing “support to prevent and cope with manifestations of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” He also mentioned increases in numbers of civil society organizations, and said defenders of human rights enjoy government recognition and support.

However, in Cuba, “the legal system cannot be infringed upon or subverted to satisfy a foreign agenda that calls for a change of regime, the constitutional order and the political system that Cubans have freely chosen.  Those who act this way are not worthy of being described as human rights defenders; they rather qualify as agents to the service of a foreign power, according to many western legislations. (Emphasis added.)

Cuba has continued to strengthen its cooperation with the UN mechanisms that take care of these issues. . . We have strictly complied with all  . . . 44 of the 61 international human rights instruments [into which we have entered.]”

“Cuba has continued to promote initiatives at the [U.N.] Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, for the defense of human rights, including the rights to development and peace.  We have consistently opposed every attempt to politically manipulate said bodies; selectivity as well as double standards.”

Likewise, “huge efforts are being made, amid adverse financial conditions, to preserve the purchasing power of salaries and pensions, improve access to food, adequate housing and public transportation, while preserving and even enhancing the quality of universal and free education and public health. No one will ever be left to his or her own fate in Cuba.”

“We cannot but mention our condition as a small island developing country, faced with an unfavorable international economic situation, characterized by the prevalence of irrational and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption; market regulations and non-transparent and less than democratic international financial institutions. Added to this are the adverse effects of climate change and the impact of natural disasters of high intensity on our economy.  Substantial resources should be invested to cope with them. (Emphasis added.)

“The strengthening of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba and its extraterritorial implementation causes deprivations and continue to be the main obstacle to the economic and social development of the country.  This unjust policy, which has been rejected by the international community, violates the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and International Law and represents a flagrant, massive and systematic violation of the human rights of our people, thus qualifying as an act of genocide under the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948.” (Emphasis added.)

“We demand the return of the territory usurped by the US Naval Base in Guantánamo, where the United States maintains a detention camp in which serious human rights violations and acts of torture are committed.”(Emphasis added.)

“The political and media campaigns against Cuba, which distort our reality, intend to discredit our country and conceal Cuba’s undeniable human rights achievements.“ Emphasis added.)

We are opened to dialogue and will offer all the necessary information based on the respect and objectivity that should characterize this exercise, in which there should be no double standards or politically motivated manipulations, which we will not accept, because, as was expressed by the President of the Council of State and Ministers, Comrade Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez on April 19, “there is no room for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle.  In Cuba, by the decision of the people, there is only room for the continuity of that legacy with the Revolution and the founding generation, without giving up to pressures, without fear and setbacks, always defending our truths and reasons, without ever renouncing sovereignty and independence, development programs and our own dreams.” (Emphasis added.)

Other Countries Comments and Recommendations[3]

During the hearing a total of 339 recommendations, many of which are repetitious, were made. Many countries, especially those friendly with Cuba like Russia and China and developing countries, made no recommendations at all. Others were more critical: members of the European Union (EU), United States, Japan, Canada, but also Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Gabriel Salvia, the General Director of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America, said, “It is a great step forward for more Latin American countries to point out the human rights situation in Cuba,”

Near the end of this section of the hearing, the U.S.’ 50-seconds were the sharpest against Cuba.[4] Michele Roulbet, the U.S. delegate, said:

  • “The April presidential transition again robbed the Cuban people of any real choice in shaping their country’s future; the same actors are in charge, many just with different titles, selected in a process that was neither free nor fair. The government stacked the system against independent candidates, none of whom were able to run for seats in the National Assembly, which selected the president.”
  • “The Cuban government continues to criminalize independent civil society and severely restricts the freedoms of expression, association, religion or belief and the right of peaceful assembly.  It routinely applies laws to silence journalists and critics, and punishes those working to expand access to information and freedom of expression for those in Cuba.”
  • In an “attempt to silence opposition voices, the government reportedly continues to use arbitrary and politically motivated detentions, torture, harassment, and travel prohibitions.  Recent examples of this include those who attempted to monitor the undemocratic presidential transition; those who have advocated for political change; and those who were prevented from participating in the 2018 Summit of the Americas in Lima and this UPR process.”

The U.S. then made the following three recommendations to Cuba: (1) “Reform its one-party system to allow for genuinely free and fair multi-party elections that provide citizens with real choices [regarding their government. “(2) “Cease the practice of arbitrarily detaining journalists, opposition members, and human rights defenders, including preemptively, and adopt a legal framework that ensures judicial independence.” (3) “Release arbitrarily detained or imprisoned individuals who were detained and imprisoned for peaceful assembly, investigate and report on government activity, or express political dissent, and allow them to travel freely both domestically and internationally.”

About midway through this section, Cuba responded to some of the criticisms. It denied the existence of political prisoners in Cuba, restrictions on the right to strike, or even the obstacles to travel freely, while insisting on the independence of the justice system. Cuban. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez described the alleged dissidents and human rights activists as “agents of a foreign power,” a regular practice of the regime to attempt to discredit opponents.

Cuba’s Closing Comments[5]

Foreign Minister Rodriguez in his final statement at the hearing said, “It is regrettable that certain countries are continuing to manipulate the human rights question for political ends, to justify the embargo on Cuba and ‘regime change.’ hey have no moral authority and on the contrary are the perpetrators of extensive, well documented and unpunished violations of human rights; they ride roughshod over the aims of the Universal Periodic Examination and persist in selectivity, double standards and the politicization of human rights.” (Emphasis added.)

These practices, which in recent years have started to reemerge, discredited the [former U.N.] Commission on Human Rights and prompted its replacement by this Council. We will be on a retrograde path if we allow such deviant practices to be consolidated in the Council’s work. Respectful dialogue reflecting the principles of objectivity, impartiality and non-selectivity; and the respect for each people’s self-determination, its right to decide its own political, economic, social and cultural system, and its development model, are the cornerstone of international cooperation in this area.” (emphasis added.)

A small number of the recommendations have an interventionist character, contrary to the spirit of cooperation and respect on which this exercise is based. One of the recommendations is strange: it is the United States which is prohibiting its citizens from travelling to Cuba and restricts their freedom to travel; it is Washington which is denying Cubans, Cuban families, consular services and visa issue at its embassy in Havana.” [These recommendations will be rejected.] (Emphasis added.)

We are keeping to our “socialist and democratic revolution, with the humble and for the humble” proclaimed by Commander-In-Chief Fidel Castro and inspired by José Martí’s brotherly formula: “With everyone and for the benefit of everyone”.

U.S.-Cuba Subsequent Conflict Over Cuba’s UPR[6]

Immediately after the Geneva hearing, from the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in New York City,  U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, issued a statement. It said that the UPR process expects countries “to allow independent civil society organizations to fully and freely participate in their UPR process. However, the Cuban government blocked independent Cuban civil society members from traveling to Geneva to participate in their review process, just as they did last month when they blocked Cuban civil society members from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit of the Americas.” (Emphasis added.)

Ambassador Haley added, “A country with a human rights record as abysmal as Cuba’s is no stranger to silencing its critics. But the Cuban government can’t silence the United States. We will continue to stand up for the Cuban people and get loud when the Cuban government deprives its people of their human rights and fundamental freedoms and robs them of free, fair, and competitive elections, denying them the opportunity to shape their country’s future.” (Emphasis added.)

Meanwhile the live webcast of the hearing was watched in Miami by some Cuban-Americans, who were gathered at the headquarters of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, whose website says, “Since its inception in 1990, the Cuban Democratic Directorate  has been characterized by a consistent and cohesive strategy for liberty and democracy in Cuba.” The Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, which was established in 1992 “to promote a nonviolent transition to a free and democratic Cuba with zero tolerance for human rights violations,” complained that Cuba had flooded the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights with letters sent by Communist Party organizations, the Cuban Women’s Federation and other organizations affiliated with the government that contained “absurd praise about the Cuban system.”

Remaining Steps in Cuba’s UPR[7]

Following the UPR hearing,  Cuba this September will submit a formal response to the recommendations, and the Working Group then will prepare a draft of the Outcomes Report. This report will provide a summary of the actual discussion, including the questions, comments and recommendations made by States to Cuba, as well as the responses by the Cuban Government.

Such outcome reports are not all that illuminating. For example, the one for Cuba’s prior review in 2013, which probably will be a lot like the one forthcoming for this latest review,[8] contains a summary of the hearing–presentation by Cuba (para. 5-26), interactive dialogue and responses by Cuba (paras. 27-169)—and a mere sequential listing of the repetitive recommendations made by the states at the hearing (paras. 170.1-170.291) although there also is an integrated more useful 45-page “thematic matrix of the recommendations.”

Another document from 2013 set forth Cuba’s views on these conclusions and recommendations and its voluntary commitments. It  listed many recommendations that “enjoy the support of the Government of Cuba;” others that have been noted by the Government; and the following 20 that  did “not enjoy the support of the Government:”

No. Country Recommendation
170.136 Belgium Adopt legislation to improve immigration & relations with Cuban diaspora
170.139 Belgium, Czech Repub., Slovenia Implement legal safeguards to protect human rights defenders, journalists, against abuse of provisions for criminal prosecution & release all political prisoners
179.162 Belgium Amend the Law of Criminal Procedure in order to avoid the cases of indefinite extension of the preliminary investigation
170.171 Romania, Estonia & Hungary Remove restrictions on freedom of expression notably concerning the connection to the Internet; Reconsider all laws that criminalize or restrict the right to freedom of expression & right of internet freedom; Lift restrictions on rights to freedom of expression that are not in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; ensure affordable & unhindered access to the internet for all.
179.172 Spain Allow freedoms of expression, association &assembly; allow human rights associations to obtain legal status through inclusive and official registration
170.173 Switzerland Lift restrictions hindering free expression & ensure that human rights defenders & independent journalists are not victims of intimidations or arbitrary prosecutions & detentions
170.174 U.K. & Northern Ireland End measures to restrict freedom of expression & assembly including short-term detentions and use of criminal charges such as “precriminal social dangerousness”, “contempt” and “resistance”
170.175 Ireland Repeal legislation relating to so-called “pre-criminal social dangerousness”
170.176 U.S.A. Eliminate or cease enforcing laws impeding freedom of expression
170.177 France Guarantee freedom of expression & peaceful assembly plus free activity of human rights defenders, independent journalists & political opponents
170.179 Canada Take further measures to improve freedom of expression by allowing for independent media &  improving access to information through public access to internet by taking advantage of the recent investment in the fiber optic network
170.182 Austria Guarantee free, free & independent environment for journalists and ensure that all cases of attacks against them are investigated by independent & impartial bodies
170.183 Netherlands End repression, investigate acts of repudiation & protect all persons who are targets of intimidation or violence
170.184 Poland Liberate immediately & unconditionally all prisoners held in temporary detention or sentenced in connection with exercising their freedom of opinion & expression as well as freedom of assembly & association
170.187 U.S.A. Release Alan Gross and imprisoned journalists such as Jose Antonio Torres immediately. [Gross was released on 12/17/14]
170.188 Australia Stop limitations on civil society activities, including short-term detention of political activists
170,189 Germany Stop harassment, intimidation & arbitrary detention of human rights activities
179.190 Hungary Stop short-term detentions, harassments & other repressive measures against human rights defenders & journalists. Implement legal safeguards to ensure their protection against abuse of provisions for criminal prosecution
170.192 Australia Reduce government influence & control over internet as part of a broader commitment to freedom of expression
170.193 Germany End online censorship

 

The report finally has to be adopted at a plenary session of the Human Rights Council. During the plenary session, the State under review can reply to questions and issues that were not sufficiently addressed during the Working Group and respond to recommendations that were raised by States during the review. Time is also allotted to member and observer States who may wish to express their opinion on the outcome of the review and for stakeholders to make general comments.

Conclusion

After the final adoption of the Outcomes Report, the Council has no authority or power to compel Cuba to do anything. Instead, Cuba “has the primary responsibility to implement the recommendations contained in the final outcome.”

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Cuba’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council (April 30, 2018); Advance Questions for Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council (May 11, 2018).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba will continue to build an ever freer, more democratic, just and fraternal society (May 16, 2018).

[3] ‘It is a great step forward for more Latin American countries to point out the human rights situation in Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (May 16, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba reiterates its commitment to cooperate with the UN human rights system (May 16, 2018); Havana warns that it will reject the recommendations of the UN with criticism of its ‘constitutional order,’ Diario de Cuba (May 18, 2018).

[4] U.S. Mission to U.N. (Geneva), U.S. Statement at the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba (May 16, 2018).

[5]  Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba reiterates its commitment to cooperate with the UN human rights system (May 18, 2018); Havana warns that it will reject the recommendations of the UN with criticism of its ‘constitutional order,’ Diario de Cuba (May 18, 2018).

[6] U.S. Mission to U.N., Press Release: Ambassador Haley on Cuba’s Human Rights Record (May 16, 2018).

[7] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Basic facts about the UPR.

[8] U.N. Hum. Rts.  Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cuba (July 8, 2013); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cuba: Addendum: Views on conclusions and recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review (Sept. 2013); U.N. Human Rts. Council, Matrix of recommendations.