Update on Hurricane Irma’s Impact on Cuba

Now that Hurricane Irma has left Cuba, greater details have emerged about its impact.

Early Reports

On the morning of Sunday (September 10) Reuters reported that “waves of up to 36 feet (11 meters) smashed businesses along Havana’s sea-side drive, . . . pummeling famous hotels such as the Copacabana, which were evacuated along with flooded neighborhoods.  Although the hurricane “did not hit Havana directly and brought only moderate wind and rain, . . .  the storm surge was still driving giant waves over the sea wall.” Associated Press added, “Seawater penetrated as much as 1,600 feet (500 meters) inland in parts of the city. Trees toppled, roofs were torn off, cement water tanks fell from roofs to the ground and electrical lines are down.” As a result, “emergency workers in inflatable boats navigated flooded streets Sunday along Havana’s coastline, where thousands of people left their homes for safer ground before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba.”[1]

Late Sunday afternoon Cuban authorities warned that the floodwaters in Havana could linger for more than a day as waves as high as 20 feet (6 meters) continued to pound the city. The U.S. Embassy astride the Malecon was damaged; its black perimeter fence, exterior panels, windows and doors were damaged. High-end hotels Melia Cohiba and Rivera also were damaged.

72 miles (116 km) east of the capital, Varadero, the country’s most important tourist resort, was whipped by winds, but it appeared to escape the full fury of the storm. The head of civil defense for the province said, “Our preliminary estimate of damage in Varadero is that it was concentrated in metal structures, false ceilings, and some buildings.”

On Sunday morning Raúl Castro as the President of the National Civil Defense Council issued a statement that the hurricane “has strongly impacted electrical infrastructure in practically the entire country, which impedes the concentration of brigades of specialized linemen in a particular zone.”[2]

Early Sunday afternoon that Council’s Advisory No. 6 stated, “Although Irma is gradually moving away from the island, it continues to represent a threat to Cuba. Its outer bands continue to affect the country’s central and western regions, with heavy and locally intense rainfall. Tropical storm strength winds continue to be felt from Sancti Spíritus to Artemisa, as well as storm surges along the northwest coast from Matanzas to Artemisa, the northern coast of the provinces of Sancti Spíritus and Villa Clara, and the southern shoreline from Camagüey to Matanzas.”

The Miami Herald has been publishing photographs of the effects of Irma in Cuba.[3]

Center for Democracy in the Americas’ Special Report

On Monday, the Center for Democracy in the Americas issued a special report, which is reprinted here in its entirety.[4]

“Hurricane Irma slammed into Cuba over the weekend, leaving 10 dead and causing destruction and flooding across the island. Irma, which made landfall in the country’s northeastern provinces as a Category 5 storm, was the strongest storm to hit Cuba in 85 years, according to Reuters.”

Damages

“The hurricane wrought havoc in Cuba’s keys, badly damaging most structures and all but destroying the international Jardines del Rey airport in Cayo Coco. Cuba’s President Raúl Castro released a statement Monday, saying, ‘Given the immensity of [Irma’s] size, practically no region has escaped its effects.’”

“Though Havana avoided a direct hit, the capital city saw extensive flooding, with 36-foot waves rising well over the Malecón (seawall) and seawater reaching one-third of a mile inland, according to Reuters and the Associated Press. The U.S. Embassy in Havana, which is located along the Malecón, saw structural damage to its fence and severe flooding inside the building.”

“According to CubaDebate, 7 of the 10 reported deaths across Cuba occurred in Havana, mostly due to falling structures and live electrical cables lying in the city’s flooded streets. Much of the island remains without power or cell service.”

“Cuba had evacuated over 1 million people, including over 8,000 tourists, prior to the storm’s arrival.”

Economic Impacts

“Irma has brought consequences for a number of Cuba’s principle economic sectors, including the sugar and tourism industries.”

“According to Granma, 300,000 hectares of sugarcane crops and 40 percent of sugar refineries in Cuba suffered some degree of damage from the storm. Cuba harvested 436,000 hectares of sugarcane in 2015, the last year for which data was available.”

“Meanwhile, the extensive damage to the Cuban Keys has left many of the country’s most popular resorts uninhabitable. President Castro stated that damages ‘will be recovered before the start of the high season’ for tourism.”

Response

“In his statement, President Castro said, ‘It is not time to mourn, but rather to rebuild what the winds of Hurricane Irma tried to destroy.’ Countries including Ecuador, Bolivia, and Russia have stated their intention to deliver aid to the island.”

“Prior to the storm reaching Cuba, the country sent nearly 800 doctors to affected Caribbean islands, according to Granma.”

President Castro’s Public Statement

The previously mentioned statement on Monday morning, September 11, by President Raúl Castro.[5] said “practically no province was spared [Irma’s] effects,” especially “severe damage to [the island’s] housing, the electrical system, and agriculture.”

“It also struck some of our principal tourist destinations, but damage will be repaired before the beginning of the high season. We have on hand for this the human resources and materials needed, given that this constitutes one of the principal sources of income in the national economy.”

“The days that are coming will be ones of much work, during which the strength and indestructible confidence in the Revolution of Cubans will again be demonstrated. This is not a time to mourn, but to construct again that which the winds of Irma attempted to destroy.”

Economic Impact

New York Times reporters talk about the problem of rebuilding tourist infrastructure facing many Caribbean islands, including Cuba.[6] They report, “Travel and tourism accounts for a higher share of the Caribbean region’s gross domestic product than it does in any other region in the world, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, supporting more than 2.3 million jobs. . . . In Cuba, the long-term implications could be even worse. The hardest-hit parts of the islands contain a significant share of its tourist infrastructure and bring in precious foreign currency for the communist nation. Without that, the country loses one of its primary sources of income to purchase items on the global market, including the construction materials it will need to repair the damaged infrastructure.”

On Monday, they report, “President Raúl Castro recognized the importance of resorts to the Cuban economy and promised they would be rebuilt before the start of the peak season, which runs from December to April. The target is ambitious, but with Venezuela, the island’s main economic partner, racked by its own crises, Cuba can’t afford to miss it. The Cuban government announced on Monday that 10 people had died as a result of the storm, bringing the death toll in the Caribbean to at least 37.”

Cuba’s sugar industry, another important Cuban industry for employment and export earnings, suffered significant damage. According to Liobel Perez, spokesman for AZCUBA, the state sugar monopoly,  “Some 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres) of cane were affected to different degrees” and 40 percent of the country’s mills were also damaged, as were warehouses and other parts of the industry’s infrastructure.[7]          

Conclusion

To meet the huge problem of rebuilding Cuba’s housing and infrastructure this blogger suggests that Cuba rescind its new restrictions on cooperatives that engage in construction that were discussed in a prior post.  Cuba needs all the help it can get as soon as possible.

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[1] Reuters, Irma’s 36-Feet Waves Slam Havana, Winds Pummel Varadero Resort, N.Y. Times (Sept. 10, 2017); Assoc. Press, Cuba Sees Devastation as Hurricane Irma Veers Toward Florida, N.Y. Times (Sept. 10, 2017); Assoc. Press, Waves from Irma Flood Havana Coast Even as Storm Moves Away, N.Y. times (Sept. 10, 2017); Advisory No. 6 from the National Civil Defense General Staff regarding Hurricane Irma, Granma (Sept. 10, 2017); Cuba responds to Irma, Granma (Sept. 10, 2017); Irma disappears the melecón of Havana, Cubadebate (Sept. 10, 2017) (photos of Havana); Irma: The sad trace of an unwanted visitor, Cubadebate (Sept. 10, 2017) (photos of Havana); In photos, trees shot down by Irma in several places in Havana, Cubadebate (Sept. 10, 2017); National Civil Defense Council General Staff announcement regarding deaths associated with Hurricane Irma, Granma (Sept. 11, 2017).

[2]  Instructions from President of the National Civil Defense Council, Granma (Sept. 10, 2017).

[3] Photo gallery: Hurricane Irma Cuba/Sun,. Sept. 10, 2017 , Miami Herald (Sept. 10, 2017); Hurricane Irma in photos: heavy flooding on the Cuban coast, from Matanzas to Havana, Miami Herald (Sept. 10, 2017); Photo gallery: Hurricane Irma strikes Cuba/Sat., Sept. 9, 2017, Miami Herald (Sept. 10, 2017).

[4] Center Democracy in Americas, Cuba Central News Brief Special Report: Cuba Recovers After Irma (Sept. 11, 2017).

[5] Castro,  A call to our combative people, Granma (Sept. 11, 2017).

[6] Ahmed & Semple, In the Caribbean, Rebuilding Nations—and the Tourism Industry, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2017); Reuters, Hurricane Irma Kills 10 in Cuba, Castro Calls for Unity, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2017).

[7] Reuters, Irma Severely Damages Cuban Sugar Industry, Crop: State Media, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2017).

Cuban Entrepreneurs Fear Implementation of Trump’s Ban on Individual Person-to-Person Travel to the Island

Meg Whitefield of the Washington Post reports that members of Cuba’s emerging entrepreneurial sector are fearful of the negative impact on their business of the future implementation of President Trump’s announced ban on individual person-to-person travel to the island.[1]

Here are examples:

  • The manager of a Cuban “loose association of vintage car owners who have banded together to offer transportation for visiting dignitaries and other groups” already has received cancellations of reservations and fears for the 20 drivers who depend on these bookings for their livelihood as well as a group of mechanics that refurbish classic cars.
  • The husband and wife owners of a Cuban “bed and breakfast for the past two decades have gradually renovated an old mansion that was in ruins when they began, adding guest rooms and struggling to find parts to get the swimming pool filter running again.” They are fearful of having fewer American visitors. The couple also fears the negative impact on “their 17 employees and the private sub-contractors they use to do everything from carpentry work to washing and pressing clothes for guests.” The couple said, “Cuentapropistas (the self-employed) have created a network. We regularly seek out each other’s services to solve our problems.”

Phil Peters, a consultant and president of the U.S. non-profit Cuba Research Center, said most casa particulares are small and won’t be able to handle group travel. “It’s harder if you have 20 people and need to run a scheduled program. You can’t have a tour bus stop at 10 different locations to pick up group members. It’s a little impractical.”

The exceptions, said Peters, “are tourist towns like Trinidad or Viñales where it seems like almost every other house is a casa particular. The three state-run hotels in Viñales, a small rural town near dramatic rock formations and caves, have a combined total of 193 rooms, while there are 1,107 private bed-and-breakfasts, many that have two or three rooms.”

The adverse effects of the future ban on individual person-to-person travel will also be felt in the U.S., according to Sandra Levinson, executive director of The Center for Cuba Studies, which is based in New York and has sponsored educational travel to Cuba since 1973. She said, “Millions are being spent by Cuban Americans who are helping their families in Cuba start their businesses by providing them with the necessary equipment for their startups — everything from bought-in-the-U.S. blenders, ice cream makers, coffee pots, dinnerware, air conditioners, TV sets, leather upholstery for cars, computers, cell phones, sound systems, bedding, shower curtains and more.”

These are important reminders to those of us in the U.S. who oppose this change in U.S. policy. Write your Senators and Representatives to pass the pending bills granting Americans freedom to travel to Cuba.

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[1] Whitefield, Cuban entrepreneurs brace for President Trump’s new Cuba policy, Miami Herald (July 3, 2017)  This blog previously has commented on the upcoming negative impact of the ban on individual person-to-person travel on Cuba’s private sector: President Trump Announces Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies (June 19, 2017); Cuban Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies (June 22, 2017); This Blogger’s Reactions to Trump Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies (June 23, 2017); Reducing Adverse Impact on Cuban Entrepreneurs of Trump’s Partial Ban on U.S. Person-to-Person Travel to Cuba (June 28, 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reducing Adverse Impact on Cuban Entrepreneurs of Trump’s Partial Ban on U.S. Person-to-Person Travel to Cuba   

As described in a prior post, on June 16 President Donald Trump announced a ban on U.S. citizens going to Cuba on individual person-to-person travel to be effective upon future adoption of regulations and instead requiring such travel to be only in organized groups. Another post then reviewed the anticipated adverse impact of this change upon Cuba’s emerging private enterprise sector (b&bs, restaurants, taxis, tour guides and others) by forcing visiting Americans to travel in buses and hotels owned by the Cuban government (including its military and security forces), which presumably will be banned by future regulations implementing another Trump policy change.

That is still the assessment of the anticipated impact[1] and, therefore, why this blogger advocates the prompt congressional passage of bills granting Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba as discussed in another post.

Indeed, the Associated Press confirms this view with reports of recent cancellations of reservations at b&bs in Havana and Trinidad, a colonial city on the south coast of the island, and by a prospective American traveler for this very reason. “Tour operators ‘should be opening Champagne’ because of the new policy, said John Caulfield, former chief of mission of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and co-founder of the nonprofit Innovadores Foundation, which seeds innovation in Cuba.”[2]

The Associated Press, however, reports ways for Cuban entrepreneurs to reduce this adverse impact on their business with American travelers. Some small bed-and-breakfast owners plan to create informal associations of neighboring businesses so they can accommodate larger American groups. And at least some tour operators say they already use privately owned villas, casas and eateries, and engage with local guides, entrepreneurs and artists. And presumably the future U.S. regulations banning U.S. businesses from dealing with Cuban businesses owned or controlled by the Cuban military or security services will prohibit tour operators from having their travelers staying in hotels so owned or controlled and instead booking accommodations at privately owned enterprises.

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[1] Kunović, Five things you need to know about Trump’s Cuba policy—and who it will hurt, Wash. Post (June 22, 2017).

[2] Assoc. Press, New Trump Rules on Cuba Travel Leaves Winners and Losers, N.Y. Times (June 27, 2017).

 

 

 

 

This Blogger’s Reactions to President Trump’s Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies                                                                                        

On June 16, as noted in a prior post, President Donald Trump announced a reversal of some aspects of the Cuba normalization policies that had been instituted by his predecessor, President Barack Obama. Other posts discussed the reactions to this development in the U.S. and Cuba while this post will set forth this blogger’s reactions and recommendations.

Remember that despite all the hostile rhetoric in Trump’s announcement, he made only two changes to be implemented in subsequent regulations: (1) prohibit U.S. business transactions with Cuban entities owned or controlled by the Cuban military or security forces; and (2) prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in individual person-to-person travel to Cuba.

As a longstanding advocate for U.S.-Cuba normalization and reconciliation, I was dreading the long anticipated announcement of a new Cuba policy direction from the Trump Administration. Thus, I was somewhat relieved that there were only the two previously mentioned specific changes although I was distressed with Trump’s unfortunate resurrection of the rhetoric of the failed U.S. policies from 1959 until the December 17, 2014, announcement of a mutual decision to seek normalization.

Now U.S. citizens who favor normalization and reconciliation need to determine how to go forward. Here are my recommendations for such a strategy.

First, focus on overturning the new ban on individual person-to-person travel. That means supporting S.127– Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act—that is authored by Senator Jeff Flake with 54 cosponsors—and asking the Senate’s GOP leadership to allow a vote on this bill as soon as possible. The same should be done for the parallel bill in the House (H.R.351—Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2017) authored by Representative Mark Sanford (Rep., S.C.) with 22 cosponsors.

Second, advance the following new argument for such bills. The new Trump policy is internally inconsistent for the following reasons:[1]

  • The ban on individual person-to-person travel, by all accounts, will reduce the overall amount of U.S. travel to the island and thereby have substantial negative effects on Cuba’s emerging private sector, which has improved the living standards of many Cubans and is a force for change in Cuba and for friendlier relations with the U.S. Remember that President Trump and his supporters purportedly favor measures to improve the lives of ordinary Cubans.
  • Forcing Americans who want to have a person-to-person experience in Cuba to do so only with established tour groups will mean “large tour groups [that] are too big for smaller bed-and-breakfast rentals, and their [Cuban] government-appointed guides tend to ply the well-trodden routes that bypass the new galleries, restaurants and night spots opened by enterprising Cubans and others.” This is a direct negative effect on Cubans’ standard of living, which Trump and his supporters do not want.
  • According to Andrea Gallina, an Italian entrepreneur who last year opened a high-end boutique hotel, Paseo 206, with his Cuban spouse, “If independent American travel is cut off, you won’t only hurt the bed-and-breakfasts. It’s also the construction crews, the private tour guides, the taxi drivers, the restaurants and the artists selling handicrafts.” Again, the Cubans now engaged in these private enterprises will be substantially disadvantaged.
  • The larger groups of American visitors will by necessity have to stay in hotels, most of which are state-owned, and travel in tour buses (again, state-owned), contrary to the other policy change announced by Trump.
  • The ban on individual person-to-person travel will increase the cost for Americans’ traveling to the island and thereby reduce the amount of such travel. As a result, the U.S. will lose the impact on Cubans of ordinary Americans, who often are the best ambassadors for the U.S., its government, people and values.

Third, continue to advocate for implementation of other normalization measures—adherence to the many agreements reached between the Obama Administration and Cuba; continued negotiation of the many unresolved issues that have accumulated over the last half century; commencement of international arbitrations over issues the parties cannot resolve by themselves; appointment of a U.S. ambassador to Cuba; and ceasing the inflammatory rhetoric of both sides.

To date, there is a mixed record of the Trump Administration on two of these measures. The head of Cuba’s National Commission on Drugs states that the two countries are still cooperating to intercept drug smugglers while U.S. officials say “day-to-day cooperation on halting U.S.-bound human trafficking and narcotics has improved significantly since the re-establishment of diplomatic relations in 2015, with the two nations’ coast guards talking directly to each other and cooperating in real time on a regular basis.” On the other hand, the U.S. has halted high-level meetings on stopping the flow of narcotics through the Caribbean and general law-enforcement cooperation.[2]

Fourth, avoid entering into a debate about the recent rhetoric of President Trump or the Cuban Government and its Foreign Minister. At the same time, Trump’s rhetoric suggests the possibility of additional reversals of President Obama’s efforts to improve relations with Cuba, and thus we “normalizers” must be ready to combat any such additional reversals.

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[1] Miroff, Trump’s Cuba policy tries to redefine ‘good’ U.S. tourism. That includes putting visitors back on tour buses, Wash. Post (June 17, 2017); Kunović, Five things you need to know about Trump’s Cuba policy—and who it will hurt, Wash. Post (June 22, 2017).

[2] Assoc. Press, U.S., Cuba Still Cooperating on Stopping Drug Smugglers, N.Y. Times (June 22, 2017); Reuters, Cuba Says Regional Marijuana Liberalization Is Fueling Trafficking, N.Y. Times (June 22, 2017).

Cuban Reactions to Trump’s Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies

On June 16, as noted in a prior post, President Donald Trump announced a reversal of some aspects of the Cuba normalization policies that had been instituted by his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Another post looked at U.S. reactions to this reversal. Now we look at Cuban reactions, and a subsequent post will set forth this blogger’s reactions.

Remember that despite all the hostile rhetoric in Trump’s announcement, he set forth only two changes to be implemented in subsequent regulations: (1) prohibit U.S. business transactions with Cuban entities owned or controlled by the Cuban military of security forces; and (2) prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in individual person-to-person travel to Cuba.

The Cuban Government’s Reactions[1]

The Cuban Government’s lengthy statement made only passing references to these two measures. It said they were made “with the intentional objective of denying [Cuba] income,” of creating “additional obstacles to already restricted opportunities available to U.S. businesses to trade with and invest in Cuba” and of imposing “further restrictions on] the rights of U.S. citizens to visit our country.”

The Cuban statement instead is devoted to objecting to what it calls “the hostile rhetoric” of President Trump’s announcement of the changes, which recalls “the era of open confrontation with our country” and which “constitutes a setback in relations between the two countries.” The U.S. President justified these policy changes “with alleged concerns about the human rights situation in Cuba and the need to rigorously enforce [U.S. embargo] blockade laws, conditioning its lifting, as well as any improvement in bilateral relations, on our country making changes elemental to our constitutional order.”[2]

However, said the Cuban Government, the U.S. embargo or blockade “causes harm and deprivation to the Cuban people and constitutes an undeniable obstacle to our economy’s development, but also impacts the sovereignty and interests of other countries, generating international condemnation.”

Moreover, these U.S. policy changes “contradict the majority support of the U.S. public, including the Cuban émigré community in that country, for the lifting of the [embargo] blockade and normal relations between Cuba and the [U.S.’]” Instead these policy changes “favor [the] political interests of an extremist minority of Cuban origin in the state of Florida, which for small-minded reasons do not desist in their pretensions to punish Cuba and its people, for exercising the legitimate, sovereign right to be free and take control of their own destiny.”

“The government of Cuba denounces the new measures to tighten the [embargo] blockade, which are destined to failure, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in the past, and which will not achieve their purpose of weakening the Revolution, or breaking the Cuban people, whose resistance to aggression of any kind or origin has been proven over almost six decades.”

“The government of Cuba rejects the manipulation of the issue of human rights for political purposes, and double standards in addressing it. The Cuban people enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms, and have achieved accomplishments of which they are proud, and which are only a dream for many of the world’s countries, including the . . . [U.S.], such as the right to health, education, social security, equal pay for equal work, the rights of children, the right to food, peace and development. With its modest resources, Cuba has contributed, as well, to the expansion of human rights in many places around the world, despite the limitations imposed given its condition as a blockaded country.”

“The [U.S.] is in no position to teach [Cuba] a lesson. We have serious concerns about [the U.S.] respect for and protection of human rights in [the U.S. and other countries].”

“Upon confirming the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations, Cuba and the [U.S.] affirmed the intention to develop respectful, cooperative ties between the two people and governments, based on the principles and purposes enshrined in the United Nations Charter . . . .: the inalienable right of every state to choose its own political, economic, social, and cultural system, without interference of any kind; and on equality and reciprocity, which constitute irrevocable principles of international law.”

“The government of Cuba reiterates its willingness to continue the respectful dialogue and cooperation in areas of mutual interest, as well as the negotiation of pending bilateral issues with the government of the [U.S.]. Over the last two years, it has been demonstrated that . . . the two countries can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, respecting differences and promoting all that benefits both nations and peoples, but it cannot be expected that, in order to do so, Cuba will make concessions which compromise our independence or sovereignty, nor accept conditions of any type.”

Cuban Foreign Minister’s Reactions[3]

The following Monday in Paris, France, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, re-emphasized these points at a press conference. Again, he made only passing references to the two specific changes in U.S. policy. He said they “reinforce the ban on U.S. citizens traveling as tourists to Cuba, and restrict their civil liberties; they limit the freedom of U.S. citizens to travel.”

He said President Trump’s announcement in Miami was “a grotesque Cold War-era spectacle” before an audience of terrorists that was “an affront to the Cuban people, to the people of the world, and to the victims of international terrorism across the globe.” The announcement “marks a step back in bilateral relations, as has been recognized by countless voices within and outside of the [U.S.], the majority of which out rightly reject the announced changes” and will adversely affect [U.S.] relations . . . with Latin America and the Caribbean, and will severely damage the credibility of its foreign policy.”

“These frankly unpopular measures ignore overwhelming support for the lifting of the [embargo] blockade and the normalization of relations with Cuba by members of the U.S. Congress, many of whom are Republicans; the country’s business sector; various civil society organizations; the Cuban émigré community; the press; social networks; and public opinion in general.”

These changes “will restrict the freedoms of U.S. citizens, cost [U.S.] taxpayers more money, reduce the opportunities of [U.s.] companies and business people against their competition, [and] lose {u.S.] income and jobs.”

These U.S. changers “also ignore the overwhelming majority view of the Cuban people, who wish to have a better relationship with the people of the U.S. They will cause human harm and deprivation; they will affect Cuban families. They will bring economic damage not only to state-owned enterprises in Cuba, but also to [Cuban] cooperatives [privately owned businesses], and will especially harm self-employed or private workers. They will also harm and increase discrimination against Cuban émigrés settled in the [U.S.].”

These U.S. changes will “reinforce our patriotism, our dignity, our determination to defend national independence by all means, in the spirit of José Martí, Antonio Maceo and Fidel Castro Ruz.”

Nevertheless, Rodriguez “reiterate[d] Cuba’s willingness to continue the respectful dialogue and cooperation in areas of mutual interest and to negotiate pending bilateral issues with the [U.S.], on the basis of equality and absolute respect for our independence and sovereignty. As demonstrated by the advances achieved in the last two years, Cuba and the [U.S.] can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, respecting the profound differences between our governments and promoting all that benefits both countries and peoples.”

Yet, “Cuba will not make concessions essential to its sovereignty and independence, will not negotiate its principles or accept conditions, as it has never done, never, throughout the history of the Revolution. As the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba establishes, we will never negotiate under pressure or threats.”

In response to journalists’ questions, the Foreign Minister made the following additional comments:

  • “Regarding the issue of the so-called ‘U.S. fugitives in Cuba,’ I can reaffirm that, under our national law and international law and the Latin American tradition, Cuba has granted political asylum or refuge to U.S. civil rights fighters. Of course these people will not be returned to the United States, which lacks the legal, political, and moral foundation to demand this.” (This has been Cuba’s consistent position as this issue was raised in negotiations with the Obama Administration before and after the December 17, 2014, announcement of the two countries embarking on the path of normalization.)
  • “U.S. citizens who committed crimes in Cuba, such as the hijacking of aircraft, were sentenced by Cuban courts and served long prison terms in Cuba. By unilateral decision, and in an act of goodwill, the Cuban government in recent years has returned to the United States 12 U.S. citizens who were fugitives from the U.S. justice system.”
  • “President Trump consistently said throughout the election campaign that he . . . would seek . . . a better deal with our country. For Cuba, “a better deal would mean lifting the [embargo] blockade, returning the territory of the Guantánamo Naval Base [to Cuba], accepting the concept of mutual compensation that would greatly benefit certified U.S. property owners, due to the nationalizations of the 1960s.”
  • “The blockade [embargo] is a piece of the Cold War; it is criminal, genocidal, according to the Geneva Convention on Genocide. It is absolutely unjust and arbitrary. It is a crude, systematic violation, flagrant and systematic, of the human rights of all Cubans, hurting Cuban families, causing damage and deprivation. On the other hand, the blockade [embargo] infringes on the interests of U.S. citizens, of its companies, of its business people, and also constitutes a violation of the civil liberties and political rights of U.S. citizens who are prohibited from traveling to Cuba.”
  • It “would seriously damage the very interests of the [U.S.] and of its citizens, if the U.S. government prevented or disassociated itself from cooperation with Cuba, which is a neighboring country and contributes to stability in the region, to the solution of regional and hemispheric problems, which has been a victim of, and actively fights, international terrorism, as well as drug trafficking; trafficking in persons; cyber-crime; against the use of digital media from one country to surreptitiously attack another; against crimes of fraud, money laundering, in which, necessarily, the interests of the continent’s countries coincide.”
  • “I can reaffirm that Cuba will attend to, honor, the agreements signed, and I reiterate our willingness to negotiate and sign new cooperation agreements in other areas. Because our way of thinking is to respect, in a civilized manner, the great differences which exist between our governments, but to advance in all that can benefit the two peoples, in our national interest and that of the Cuban people.”
  • “It is clear that the measures being implemented by the U.S. government will harm the Cuban people, and especially harm sectors with which the U.S. government has expressed the most interest in building relations. In Cuba, it would be impossible to hurt the state sector of the economy without seriously hurting the cooperative sector, the self-employed, or small private businesses, in particular in the areas that some of these measures address, like the ban on individual travel by U.S. citizens under ‘people-to-people’ licenses.”
  • “[T]hese measures, no doubt, [also] prejudice U.S. interests. The paradox is strange, because the U.S. President has said that his priority is the U.S. citizenry, the creation of jobs, seeking opportunities for U.S. companies and businesses, making them more competitive. With these measures, he is doing exactly the opposite.”

Cuba’s rejection of the rhetorical demands by President Trump has elicited the strong support of Russia, which has maintained close ties with Havana and in March signed a deal to ship oil to Cuba for the first time in over a decade. Russia said that Trump was “returning us to the forgotten rhetoric of the Cold War.”

Cuban Citizens’ Reactions[4]

In addition to the Cuban government, Cuba’s emerging entrepreneurs oppose the change in the U.S. travel rules. They have grown and prospered as Americans over the last two years have flocked to the island on airlines, patronizing thousands of private bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants. For example, Camilo Diaz, a 44-year-old waiter in a restaurant in Havana, said, “When [Trump’s] cutting back on travel, he’s hurting us, the Cuban entrepreneurs. We’re the ones who are hurt.” A similar opinion was voiced by

Havana resident Marta Deus, who recently set up an accountancy firm and courier service, to cater to the emerging private sector. She said, “We need clients, business, we need the economy to move and by isolating Cuba, they will only manage to hurt many Cuban families and force companies to close.”

This obvious adverse impact on Cuba’s emerging private businesses is also obviously adverse to the U.S. interest in encouraging this sector that promotes economic gains for many Cubans and that constitutes a growing counter-weight to the Cuban state controlling everything. The change also promises to increase the cost of Americans going to Cuba because hotels are more expensive than the new, small b&bs.

Expressing a contrary opinion is Jose Daniel Ferrer, who leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the country’s largest dissident group. He said, “When the Obama administration stopped condemning human rights violations in Cuba, the regime here said ‘look we can do this and nothing happens, so we can continue repressing more forcefully.’” Other dissidents agree repression has worsened but say rolling back the detente, which will hurt ordinary Cubans, is not the solution.

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[1] Revolutionary Government Statement: Any strategy directed toward changing Cuba’s constitutional order is condemned to failure, Granma (June 19, 2017); Reuters, Cuban Government Says Trump Will Not Weaken ‘the Revolution,’ N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Assoc. Press, Russia Says Trump Is Using ‘Cold War Rhetoric’ on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 18, 2017); Reuters, Russia Criticizes U.S. for ‘Anti-Cuban’ Approach, Says It Sides with Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 18, 2017).

[2] The prior post about the U.S. announcement of the limited changes to U.S. policy did not discuss or quote President Trump’s full-blown condemnation of many Cuban policies and practices and U.S. past and current efforts to change those policies and practices. The full text and summaries of that speech are available in the following: White House, Remarks by President Trump on the Policy of the United States Towards Cuba (June 16, 2017); DeYoung & Wagner, Trump announces revisions to parts of Obama’s Cuba policy, Wash. Post (June 16, 2017); Davis, Trump Reverses Pieces of Obama-Era Engagement with Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Schwartz, Trump Announces Rollback of Obama’s Cuba Policy, W.S.J. (June 16, 2017).

[3] Rodriguez, Cuba will not make concessions essential to its sovereignty and independence, nor will it negotiate its principles or accept conditions, Granma (June 20, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba Highlights Strong Rejection to Trump’s Policy, (June 19, 2017); Live Press Conference of the Cuban Foreign Minister (+ Video), Granma (June 19, 2017); Ahmed, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Calls Trump’s New Policy a ‘Grotesque Spectacle,’ N.Y. Times (June 20, 2017). The day after his press conference, Foreign Minister Rodriguez repeated some of these comments in an interview by a Russian press agency. (‘Total regress’: Trump would blame Havana for climate change, if he believed in it—Cuban FM to RT, Russia Today (June 20, 2017).)

[4] Reuters, Reuters, Cubans Fret New Trump Policy Will Dampen Tourism Boom, N.Y. Times (June 14, 2017); Miroff, In booming old Havana tourist quarter, Trump speech puts Cubans in a bad mood, Wash. Post (June 16, 2017); Reuters, Cubans Say Crestfallen That Trump Rolling Back Détente, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017).

Trump Administration Reportedly Planning Reversal of Some Aspects of U.S. Normalization of Cuba Relations   

Next Friday, June 16, in Miami, President Trump reportedly will announce certain changes in U.S. policies regarding Cuba. These changes will be the result of an overall review of such policies that has been conducted from the first days of this administration. Not surprisingly the review process has revealed conflicts between leaders of various federal departments favoring continuation of normalization, on the one hand, and political opponents of normalization from Florida, on the other hand. Supposedly the political cover for the rumored over turning at least some of the normalization is the U.S. desire to combat human rights problems on the island.[1]

While President Trump reportedly still has overall support from most Republicans in the Senate and House, on June 8, seven Republican Congressmen sent the president a letter urging continuation of normalization with Cuba. They were Representative Tom Emmer (MN), who is the Chair of the House Cuba Working Group, along with Jack Bergman (MI), James Comer (KY), Rick Crawford (AR), Darin LaHood (IL), Roger Marshall (KS), and Ted Poe (TX). The letter made the following points:

  • “Given Cuba’s proximity, it is a natural partner for strategic cooperation on issues of immediate concern. Since the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, the [U.S.] and Cuba have signed nine formal bilateral agreements that have improved efforts to combat human trafficking, illicit drug trade, fraud identification, and cybercrime. A rollback of Cuba policy would threaten these efforts and in turn, the safety of the American people.”
  • “More concerning, if we fail to engage politically and economically, our foreign competitors and potential adversaries will rush to fill the vacuum in our own backyard. For instance, Russia is already strengthening its ties with Cuba, supporting infrastructure investment and resuming oil shipments for the first time this century. China is also expanding its footprint in Cuba as well. China is now Cuba’s largest trading partner and heavily invested in providing telecommunications services, among other investments, on the island.”
  • “Reversing course would incentivize Cuba to once again become dependent on countries like Russia and China. Allowing this to happen could have disastrous results for the security of the [U.S.]. Alternatively, we can counter the growing threat of foreign influence in our region by engaging with our island neighbor. We can empower the Cuban people by providing high quality American goods and supporting Cuba’s growing private sector through increased American travel.”
  • “We urge you to prioritize U.S. national security and not return to a policy of isolation that will only serve to embolden adversarial foreign power in the region.”

This letter was personally delivered to the White House on June 8 by Representative Emmer and three of the other signers of the letter. Afterwards Emmer told Reuters, “My hope is that when the administration is done with their review, they don’t let one or two voices overwhelm what is in the interest of the United States.”

For advocates of normalization, like this blog, this policy review reportedly has bad news and good news regarding U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, U.S. business with Cuban state or military enterprises, Americans travel to Cuba and U.S. “democracy promotion” programs on the island.

U.S. Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

Good news: severing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba seems very unlikely.

Business with Cuban State or Military Enterprises

Bad News. Reuters says the Administration is considering “tightening restrictions on U.S. firms doing business with Cuban state or military enterprises. Such a restriction could have far-reaching consequences for existing deals, such as the one last year by Starwood Hotels and Resorts last year to manage hotels in Cuba — one of which is owned by the military conglomerate Gaviota — and effectively freeze future ones, since the military in Cuba has a hand in virtually every element of the economy.”

Such restrictions would cost U.S. manufacturing and chemical companies through January 2021 (the end of the term for the Trump presidency) an estimated $929 million, adversely affecting 1,359 jobs. In addition, imposing new restrictions on U.S. agricultural and medical exports to Cuba, for the same time period, are estimated to cost the U.S. an additional $3.6 billion and 3,087 jobs.

On the other hand, there also is internal resistance in the Administration to making it more difficult for U.S. businesses and agricultural interests to do business with Cuba. Similar resistance exists in Congress as evident with various pending bills to end the U.S. embargo of the island, in whole or in part, as discussed in an earlier post.

Americans Travel to Cuba[2]

Bad News. There are rumors that the Administration may cut back on the ability of Americans to travel to the island. Again, however, there are pending bills in Congress that would prevent this.

Presumably, however, the Trump Administration would be hesitant to adopt measures that would be harmful to U.S. travel companies. U.S. cruise operators and airlines, for example, are estimated to lose around $712 million in annual revenues under enhanced travel restrictions with resulting risks to U.S. employment in these businesses. Especially at risk are jobs in south Florida involved in the cruise business. Through January 2021 (the period for the current term of the U.S. presidency), these costs are estimated at $3.5 billion, adversely affecting 10, 154 jobs.

These adverse effects were echoed at an early June aviation industry conference by Alexandre de Juniac, the Director General of the International Air Transport Association: “Restricting the network of aviation and access to Cuba would be bad news for aviation. Generally we welcome the extension of access to any country by plane.”

In addition, making it more difficult for Americans to travel to Cuba would adversely affect the relative prosperity of the island’s emerging private enterprise sector, which acts as a counterweight to the state-owned enterprises and as a force for liberalization of various aspects of Cuban society and government. According to Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition of businesses and others supporting normalization, Cuba’s private business sector currently accounts for 1/3 of Cuba’s workforce, has greatly expanded Cubans’ earning potential, has gained a larger share of the island’s food service industry, is providing almost 1/3 of all rooms available for rent in Cuba, and through tech entrepreneurs is helping to modernize the economy.[3]

Just recently some of the Cuban entrepreneurs have formed the Association of Businessmen to help, advice, train and represent the members of the private sector. The group applied in February for government recognition. The official deadline for a government response has passed without approval or rejection, thereby leaving the group in the peculiar status known in Cuba as “alegal” or a-legal, operating unmolested but vulnerable to a crackdown at any time.

U.S. “Democracy Promotion” Programs in Cuba

Good News. As noted in a prior post, the Administration’s proposed Fiscal 2018 State Department budget eliminates funding for the so-called covert “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba conducted by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

However, it also has been reported that the president is weighing an increase in funding for USAID programs that promote democracy in Cuba, initiatives that the Castro government has long condemned as covert efforts to overthrow it.

Cuban Human Rights[4]

A White House spokesman, Michael Short, recently observed, “As the President has said, the current Cuba policy is a bad deal. It does not do enough to support human rights in Cuba. We anticipate an announcement in the coming weeks.”

This issue also was highlighted in a recent article by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, which severely criticized the U.N. for electing human rights violators, like Cuba, to membership on the Human Rights Council. Cuba’s government, she said, “strictly controls the media and severely restricts the Cuban people’s access to the Internet. Political prisoners by the thousands sit in Cuban jails.” Therefore, she was proposing that “membership on the Council must be determined through competitive voting to keep the worst human rights abusers from obtaining seats.”

However, at a Council meeting in Geneva on June 6, Ambassador Haley did not mention Cuba in a short statement to emphasize the U.S. “strong conviction to the protection and promotion of human rights” and the importance of the Council’s “resolutions [that] can give hope to people who are fighting for justice, democracy, and human rights, and they can pave the way for accountability.”

Later that same day in Geneva at what she described as a Council “side-event,” she spoke about “Human Rights and Democracy in Venezuela.” As the title of her remarks suggest, she focused on that country’s current abuses of human rights and democracy and complained about Venezuela’s being a [Council] member in good standing . . . [and using] that membership to block any meaningful discussion of its human rights violations. The . . . Council has no excuse. It cannot consider itself the world’s leading human rights organization and continue to ignore the violations and abuses that are occurring in Venezuela.” Although Cuba is a strong ally of Venezuela and frequently dismisses the latter’s critics, Ambassador Haley made not mention of Cuba in these remarks.

Cuba, however, returned to her remarks later the same day, June 6, at Geneva’s

Graduate Institute, where her focus was the Council’s failure “to act properly – when it fails to act at all – it undermines its own credibility and the cause of human rights. It leaves the most vulnerable to suffer and die. It fuels the cynical belief that countries cannot put aside self-interest and cooperate on behalf of human dignity. It re-enforces our growing suspicion that the Human Rights Council is not a good investment of our time, money, and national prestige.”[5]

One example of the Council’s failure, she said, was Cuba, where “the government continues to arrest and detain critics and human rights advocates. The government strictly controls the media and severely restricts the Cuban people’s access to the Internet. Political prisoners by the thousands continue to sit in Cuban jails. Yet Cuba has never been condemned by the . . . Council. It, too, is a member country.”

In addition, according to Haley, Cuba uses its membership in the Council as proof that it is a supporter of human rights, instead of a violator. The Cuban deputy foreign minister called Cuba’s 2016 re-election to the Human Rights Council, “irrefutable evidence of Cuba’s historic prestige in the promotion and protection of all human rights for Cubans.

Whatever the merits of the U.S. allegations about Cuban human rights, reversing any aspect of the current status of normalization, in this blogger’s opinion, will not cause Cuba to change its own policies and practices. Instead, any reversal may well harden Cuban resistance to change and provide opportunities for other countries, like Russia and China, to enhance their relations with Cuba. Finally such reversals are hypocritical in light of the recent U.S. embrace of Saudi Arabia with a poor human rights record.

Conclusion

A New York Times editorial summed up this controversy by criticizing the rumored return to the “hard-line sanctions-based approach [that] was in place for more than 50 years after the 1959 revolution and never produced what anti-Castro activists hoped would be the result, the ouster of Cuba’s Communist government in favor of democracy. Isolating Cuba has become increasingly indefensible.”[6]

In contrast, said the editorial, “Mr. Obama’s opening to Havana has enabled the freer flow of people, goods and information between the two countries, even as significant differences remain over human rights. It has produced bilateral agreements on health care cooperation, joint planning to mitigate oil spills, coordination on counternarcotics efforts and intelligence-sharing. In April, Google’s servers went live in Cuba and thus it became the first foreign internet company to host content in one of the most unplugged nations on earth. Mr. Obama’s approach also encouraged Latin American countries to be more receptive to the United States as a partner in regional problem-solving.”

All U.S. supporters of normalization need to express their opinions to the White House, the U.S. State Department and members of Congress.

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[1] Rumors of Upcoming Trump Administration Rollback of U.S. Normalization of Relations with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (May 25, 2017); Reuters, Trump Administration Nearing Completion of Cuba Policy Review: Sources, N.Y. Times (May 30, 2017); Davis, Trump Considers Rolling Back Obama’s Opening With Cuba, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2017); Mazzei, Gomez, Kumar & Ordońez, How Cuba policy, and its inevitable drama, ensnared Trump’s White House, Miami Herald (June 1, 2017); Trump Reversing Cuba Policy Would Cost $6.6 Billion, Over 12k Jobs, Engage Cuba (June 1, 2017); Reuters, Trump Expected to Unveil New Cuba Policy as Early as Next Friday: Sources, N.Y. Times (June 9, 2017); Mazzei, Trump to reveal Cuba policy in Miami Next Friday, Miami Herald (June 9, 2017); Reuters, Some Republican Lawmakers Urge Trump Not to Reverse Cuba Opening, N.Y. Times (June 9, 2017); Letter, Representative Tom Emmer and six other Republican Congressmen to President Trump (June 8, 2017);Werner, Many in GOP unshaken by Comey’s testimony against Trump, StarTribune (June 10, 2017).

[2] Reuters, U.S. Travel Sector to Suffer if Trump Reverses Cuba Detente: Report, N.Y. Times (June 1, 2017); Glusac, How a Shift in U.S. Policy could Affect Travel to Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 1, 2017); Assoc. Press, Cuban Entrepreneurs Start first Private Business Group, N.Y. Times (June 1, 2017); Reuters, U.S.-Cuba Policy Looms at Aviation Industry Conference, N.Y. Times (June 7, 2017).

[3] 5 Facts About Cuba’s Private Sector, EngageCUBA (Feb. 24, 2017).

[4] Assoc. Press, Trump Faces Tough Task Unwinding Obama Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2017); Haley, The U.N. Human Rights Council whitewashes brutality, Wash. Post (June 2, 2017); Haley, Remarks at a Human Rights Council Side Event: “Human Rights and Democracy in Venezuela (June 6, 2017); Haley, Remarks at the U.N. Human Rights Council (June 6, 2017); Cumming-Bruce, U.S. Stops short of Leaving U.N. Human Rights Council, N.Y. Times (June 6, 2017).

[5] Haley, Remarks at the Graduate Institute of Geneva on “A Place for Conscience: the Future of the United States in the Human Rights Council,” (June 6, 2017).

[6] Editorial, Undoing All the Good Work on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 5, 2017).