U.S. and Cuba Continue To Hold Dialogues on Common Issues

On July 10 and 11, 2018, the U.S. and Cuba in Washington D.C. continued to hold bilateral meetings. On July 10, the subject was law enforcement. On the 11th, migration. As was true for other such meetings, each country released statements about the meetings. Here is a summary of those statements.

Law Enforcement Dialogue[1]

U.S. Statement

According to the U.S. State Department, the two countries  “addressed topics of bilateral interest on national security matters, including fugitives and the [U.S.] return [to Cuba] of Cuban nationals with [U.S.] final orders of removal.” They also “reviewed recent progress in the law enforcement relationship, such as new bilateral cooperation that resulted in the [U.S.] conviction of a Cuban national who murdered an American citizen and who had fled prosecution in the [U.S.], as well as areas where there is more work to be done, such as trafficking in persons.”

The U.S. also said there was discussion about “the health attacks against diplomatic personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, including two recent cases. The U.S. delegation reminded the Cubans of their responsibility to protect U.S. diplomats from harm.”[2]

Cuban Statement

The Cuban Foreign Ministry’s statement had these words about the medical issues of certain U.S. diplomats in Cuba: “The Cuban delegation urged the U.S. government to desist from the continued political manipulation of the alleged health incidents that became a pretext to adopt new unilateral measures that affect the operation of the respective embassies, particularly, the rendering of consular services depended upon by hundreds of thousands of people.”

“The investigations carried out by specialized agencies and experts from Cuba and the United States for more than one year confirmed that there is no credible evidence or hypothesis or science-based conclusions that justify the actions taken by the U.S. government against Cuba to the detriment of bilateral relations. Last June 5, U.S. Secretary of State himself affirmed that ‘the precise nature of the injuries suffered by the affected personnel, and whether a common cause exists for all cases, has not yet been established.’”

Nevertheless, the Cuban delegation “reiterated its unchanged commitment to cooperate with the U.S. authorities to clarify this situation. Ensuring the health and security of Cubans and foreign citizens is and will be a priority of the Cuban government. “

In addition, the Cuban statement said, “The purpose of these exchanges is to coordinate the bilateral cooperation in the field of law enforcement and to advance in the combat against the different crimes that threaten the security of the two countries such as terrorism, illicit drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, cybercrimes, among others.”

Cuba added, “While reviewing the exchanges on the different areas of security, the Cuban side made reference to the concrete results of this bilateral cooperation, which has contributed to prevent crimes and prosecute offenders. The Cuban delegation also made emphasis on the information and requests for cooperation [while still waiting for a U.S. response] to further advance in the implementation of this mechanism.”

“Both sides agreed to continue with this dialogue and to keep holding the technical meetings between the law enforcement agencies from both countries to bring bilateral cooperation to fruition.”

Migration Dialogue[3]

U.S. Statement

“The delegations discussed the significant reduction in irregular migration from Cuba to the [U.S.] since the implementation of the [January 12, 2017 Joint Declaration]. Apprehensions of Cuban migrants at U.S. ports of entry decreased by 88 percent from fiscal year 2017 to 2018. The [U.S.] again raised the need for increased Cuban cooperation in the [U.S.] return of Cubans with final orders of removal from the [U.S.]”[4]

The [U.S.] also reiterated that until it is safe to fully staff our Embassy, we are able to adjudicate only official and emergency visas in Havana.”

“A strong migration policy is vital to the [U.S.’] national security. The Migration Talks, which began in 1995, provide a forum for the [U.S.] and Cuba to review and coordinate efforts to ensure safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the [U.S.].”

Cuban Statement

Both “parties acknowledged the benefits of the Joint Declaration of January 12, 2017, in particular the elimination of the policy of “Dry feet-wet feet” and the “Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals,” in the decrease of irregular emigration.”

“They also agreed on the usefulness of the exchange between [U.S.] Coast Guard Troops and the [Cuban] Coastguard Service held in January 2018, and the technical meeting on trafficking in persons and immigration fraud carried out in December 2017.”

In addition, “compliance with bilateral agreements was reviewed, in order to guarantee a regular, safe and orderly migration; discourage irregular migration, and prevent and confront associated illicit acts. Cuba demonstrated that it rigorously fulfills its obligations, and reiterated its willingness to maintain and expand bilateral cooperation in this area.”

“The Cuban delegation urged the government of the [U.S.] to fully comply with its commitments to issue visas for migrants, in accordance with the Migration Agreements. . . . [The U.S.] decision to suspend visa processing services at its embassy in Havana directly affects migratory relations and family ties, damaging institutional exchanges and travel between the two countries.”

The Cubans also “expressed concern about the [U.S.’] Cuban Adjustment Act, which, together with other US regulations, encourages the irregular emigration of Cubans and exposes them to becoming victims of illegal traffickers and gangs associated with organized crime.”

Conclusion

Despite the Trump Administration’s continued hostile rhetoric and actions regarding Cuba, it is reassuring that the two countries are continuing to have respectful dialogue on many common issues and reaching agreement on some of these problems. May it continue!

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[1]  U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Fourth Law Enforcement Dialogue in Washington, DC (July 10, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the United States hold fourth meeting on law enforcement dialogue, Minrex (July 11, 2018); Washington once again reminds Havana of its responsibility in the protection of its diplomats, Diario de Cuba (July 11, 2018). The most recent prior meeting was in September 2017. (U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Third Law Enforcement Dialogue in Washington, D.C. (Sept. 15, 2017).) This blog has commented on prior bilateral meetings. E.g., Cuba and U.S. Continue To Hold Bilateral Meetings on Various Issues (Jan. 18, 2018).

[2]  On July 11, 2018, the issue of the medical problems of the U.S. diplomats cane up at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Kenneth Merten, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified, “We don’t know who is responsible and we don’t know what is responsible for this. . . . We have taken this … very seriously, both in the Cuba context and the China context which is, frankly, still very much evolving.” At the hearing, Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) — the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and ranking member, respectively — said they planned to meet with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan on Wednesday afternoon and would discuss the health incidents with him.”  (Reuters, State Department Still Investigating Diplomats’ Illnesses in Cuba, China, N.Y. Times (July 11, 2018); Greenwood, State Dept: No answers in sonic attacks in Cuba, China, The Hill (July 11, 2018).) Prior posts about these medical problems are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, U.S. and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks in Washington, DC (July 11, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Migratory Round Held between Cuba and the United States (July 11, 2018); Celebrated Migratory round between Cuba and the United States, Cubadebate (July 11, 2018). Two days before the latest migration meeting, a Cuba Foreign Ministry official in an  interview asserted that Cuba  has “rigorously” complied with its migration agreements with the U.S. despite the U.S. creation of “obstacles to the fulfillment of its obligations.” (Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba strictly complies with migration agreements with the US, MINREX (July 9, 2018).)

[4] The January 2017 Joint Declaration eliminated the U.S. policy of admitting into the U.S. Cubans who arrived on land with “dry feet” and the U.S. Program for Parole for Cuban Medical Personnel. See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans (Jan. 13, 2017); Additional Reactions to End of Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans (Jan. 14, 2017); Other Current Developments Regarding Cuban Migrants to U.S. (Jan. 15, 2017).

 

Reactions to New Presidential Policy Directive on U.S.-Cuba Normalization

As replicated in a prior post, on October 14, President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Policy Directive on U.S.-Cuba Normalization.

This Directive, to my knowledge, has no special U.S. legal status and instead is a roadmap for the next administration on the multiple ways the complex U.S. government is implementing such normalization. President Obama in a statement about the Directive said, “This Directive takes a comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to promote engagement with the Cuban government and people, and make our opening to Cuba irreversible. . . . [It] consolidates and builds upon the changes we’ve already made, promotes transparency by being clear about our policy and intentions, and encourages further engagement between our countries and our people.”[1]

Here are comments on some of the key unresolved issues in that process.

  1. Ending the U.S. Embargo of Cuba

 Cuba repeatedly has called for ending the U.S. embargo, and on October 27 it will present its annual resolution condemning the embargo (blockade) to the U.N. General Assembly, which undoubtedly again will overwhelmingly approve the resolution.

The Presidential Directive correctly notes that the Obama Administration repeatedly has asked Congress to end the embargo and states that the U.S. Mission to the United Nations “will participate in discussions regarding the annual Cuban embargo resolution at the [U.N.], as our bilateral relationship continues to develop in a positive trajectory.”[2]

  1. Expanding U.S.-Cuba Trade

The Directive correctly includes a “prosperous and stable Cuba” and expanded U.S.-Cuba trade as parts of its vision for normalization, and the Directive correctly reported that the Obama Administration has adopted regulations relaxing some of the restrictions on U.S. trade with Cuba.[3]

In addition, President Obama’s statement about the Directive noted that on the same day, “The Departments of Treasury and Commerce issued further regulatory changes . . . to continue to facilitate more interaction between the Cuban and American people, including through travel and commercial opportunities, and more access to information.”[4]

According to the two departments’ press release, these new changes will enable “more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contact, and private sector growth.” More specifically, the changes “are intended to expand opportunities for scientific collaboration by authorizing certain transactions related to Cuban-origin pharmaceuticals and joint medical research; improve living conditions for Cubans by expanding existing authorizations for grants and humanitarian-related services; increase people-to-people contact in Cuba by facilitating authorized travel and commerce; facilitate safe travel between the United States and Cuba by authorizing civil aviation safety-related services; and bolster trade and commercial opportunities by expanding and streamlining authorizations relating to trade and commerce.”[5]

There is also “a new authorization that will allow persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide services to Cuba or Cuban nationals related to developing, repairing, maintaining, and enhancing certain Cuban infrastructure in order to directly benefit the Cuban people.” Other new rules permit certain foreign ships carrying certain cargo to travel directly to U.S. ports after docking in Cuba, the export of U.S. pesticides or tractors to Cuba without advance payment in cash and U.S. businesses to enter into binding contracts with Cubans that are contingent on the lifting of the U.S. embargo.

  1. U.S. Promotion of Economic Change in Cuba

The Directive states the U.S. “will not pursue regime change in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the [U.S.] cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people.”

Nevertheless the Directive recognizes as does the Communist Party of Cuba (CPC) that “Due to Cuba’s legal, political, and regulatory constraints, its economy is not generating adequate foreign exchange to purchase U.S. exports that could flow from the easing of the embargo.” Helping to meet this economic problem, both the U.S. and the CPC also recognize, “With an estimated 1 in 4 working Cubans engaged in entrepreneurship, a dynamic, independent private sector is emerging. Expansion of the private sector has increased resources for individual Cubans and created nascent openings for Cuban entrepreneurs to engage with U.S. firms and nongovernmental organizations. We take note of the Cuban government’s limited, but meaningful steps to expand legal protections and opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses, which, if expanded and sustained, will improve the investment climate.” While the Cuban government pursues its economic goals based on its national priorities, we will utilize our expanded cooperation to support further economic reforms by the Cuban government.”[6]

The Directive makes clear that the U.S. seeks and promotes Cuban economic reform that includes “the development of a private sector that provides greater economic opportunities for the Cuban people.”

  1. U.S. Promotion of Human Rights in Cuba

According to the Directive, Cuba continues with “repression of civil and political liberties.” As a result, the U.S. “will utilize engagement to urge Cuba to make demonstrable progress on human rights and religious freedom” and “continue to speak out in support of human rights, including the rights to freedoms of expression, religion, association, and peaceful assembly as we do around the world. Our policy is designed to support Cubans’ ability to exercise their universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. . . . In pursuit of these objectives, we are not seeking to impose regime change on Cuba; we are, instead, promoting values that we support around the world while respecting that it is up to the Cuban people to make their own choices about their future.”

  1. U,S. Democracy Promotion Programs in Cuba

The U.S. through private contractors with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. State Department and other U.S. government agencies surreptitiously has been conducting what the U.S. calls “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba. Cuba rightfully and consistently has objected to such programs.[7]

Nevertheless, the Directive asserts the U.S. “will not pursue regime change in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the [U.S.] cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people.”

“While remaining committed to supporting democratic activists as we do around the world, we will also engage community leaders, bloggers, activists, and other social issue leaders who can contribute to Cuba’s internal dialogue on civic participation. We will continue to pursue engagements with civil society through the U.S. Embassy in Havana and during official [U.S.] Government visits to Cuba.”

“We will pursue democracy programming that is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies around the world.” (Emphasis added.) The State Department will continue to be responsible for “coordination of democracy programs” and “will continue to co-lead efforts with the U.S. Agency for International Development to ensure democracy programming is transparent and consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies. (Emphasis added.)

The Directive correctly anticipates that “the Cuban government will continue to object to U.S. democracy programs, [and] Radio and TV Marti.” This blog has consistently agreed with the Cubans on this issue because the so-called democracy programs are carried out surreptitiously by the U.S. How can they be promoting democracy if they are undercover? If indeed the U.S. wants to do so transparently, then they should only be done with the knowledge and consent of the Cuban government.

Is the statement that such programs in Cuba are to be “consistent with programming in other similarly situated societies” supposed to be the purported justification for conducting such programs in Cuba secretly from its government?

  1. U.S. Special Immigration Rules for Cubans

Cuba repeatedly has called for the U.S. to end its special immigration benefits to Cubans: (a) the U.S. dry feet/wet feet policy that allows any Cubans who arrive on land at a U.S. point of entry to be admitted into the U.S.; and (b) the U.S. Cuban Medical Professional Parole Policy that allows such Cubans to gain entry to the U.S. as parolees from other countries. Therefore, the Directive correctly anticipates “the Cuban government will continue to object to U.S. migration policies and operations.”

This blog has concurred with Cuba’s objections to these policies.[8]

The Directive correctly recognizes that “significant emigration of working-age Cubans further exacerbates Cuba’s demographic problem of a rapidly aging population.” Yet the Directive fails to discuss either the specific U.S. immigration rules for Cubans themselves or their being one of the causes of this societal and economic problem for the island. This, in my opinion, is a major failing of the Directive.

Instead, the Directive merely states that the DHS “will safeguard the integrity of the U.S. immigration system, to include the facilitation of lawful immigration and ensure protection of refugees. The Secretary of Homeland Security (the United States Government lead for a maritime migration or mass migration) with support from the Secretaries of State and Defense, will address a maritime migration or mass migration pursuant to Executive Orders 12807 and 13276 and consistent with applicable interagency guidance and strategy.”

  1. U.S. Lease of Guantanamo Bay from Cuba

Cuba repeatedly has alleged that the U.S. use of Guantanamo Bay for a naval base is “illegal” and that the U.S. should return this territory to Cuba while the U.S. consistently has rejected such allegations and demands. The Directive maintains this U.S. position; it states, “The [U.S.] Government has no intention to alter the existing lease treaty and other arrangements related to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, which enables the [U.S.] to enhance and preserve regional security.”

This blog has analyzed this dispute, rejected Cuba’s unsupported allegation that the U.S. use of this territory is illegal and suggested that the dispute over Guantanamo be submitted to an international arbitration panel for resolution. A better solution, as this blog also has recommended, would be a renegotiation of the lease with a much larger annual rent to be paid by the U.S. Such a change, in my opinion, would provide Cuba with much-needed foreign exchange to pay its foreign obligations, including the undoubted obligation to pay U.S. nationals for expropriation of property at the start of the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960’s. Returning the territory to Cuba, while it would probably provide an emotional boost to its pride, would which not add to its economy. In the background is the larger geopolitical threat to the U.S. if Russia (or China) and Cuba agree to the installation of Russian (or Chinese) military bases on the island.[9]

  1. Other Issues

Although the Directive is stated to be “comprehensive,” it does not mention at least the following serious unresolved issues that have arisen in the two countries’ discussions since December 17, 2014:

  • Cuba’s claims for over $ 300 billion of alleged damages resulting from the embargo and certain other U.S. actions;
  • Cuba’s claim against U.S.for unpaid rent for Guantanamo Bay, 1960 to date;
  • The U.S. claims for nearly $8 billion (including interest) for property owned by U.S. nationals that was expropriated by the Cuban government in the early days of the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960’s;
  • Mutual return of fugitives from the other’s criminal justice system.[10]

Conclusion

There are many reasons why a supporter of U.S.-Cuba normalization like this blogger should be happy over this Directive. It provides a roadmap for the complex U.S. governmental pursuit of normalization that should be helpful to a new U.S. president who wants to continue that pursuit. Moreover, many of the specifics are laudable, in this blogger’s opinion.

However, the Directive has failed to announce cessation of secretive “democracy promotion” programs for Cuba and special immigration benefits for Cubans, as urged by this blogger and others. In addition, as just noted, the Directive fails to cover some of the serious, unresolved issues between the two countries. All of these points, in this blogger’s opinions, are serious deficiencies.

Cuba immediately responded to this Directive.[11] Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s Director General of the United States, said the Directive “is a significant step in the process towards lifting the blockade and to the improvement of relations between the two countries. We consider it important that the Directive recognizes the independence, sovereignty and self-determination of Cuba, which should continue to be essential in relations between the two countries.” On the other hand, she noted, the Directive “does not hide the [U.S.] purpose of promoting changes in the economic, political and social system of Cuba.”

Yes, as President Obama recently said to the author of an article in The New Yorker, the President and many Americans, including this blogger, believe that changes in Cuban human rights and economy would be beneficial to the Cubans and the hemisphere. So long as the U.S. seeks these objectives above-board and with the knowledge and consent of the Cuban government, both governments and peoples should be pleased.

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 [1] White House, Statement by the President on the Presidential Policy Directive on Cuba (Oct. 14, 2016); Davis, Obama, Cementing New Ties With Cuba, Lifts Limits on Cigars and Rum, N.Y. Times (Oct. 14, 2016).

[2] This blog also repeatedly has pleaded with Congress to end the embargo. (See posts listed in “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[3] This blog has applauded these relaxations of restrictions. (See posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2014-2015,” and “U.S. & Cuba Normalization, 2015-2016” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[4] Reuters, Obama Eases Restrictions on Cuba, Lifts Limits on Rum and Cigars, N.Y. times (Oct. 14, 2016); Schwartz, U.S. Takes Additional Steps to Ease Restrictions on Trade, Ties with Cuba, W.S.J. (Oct. 14, 2016); Whitefield, Obama moves to make Cuba policies ‘irreversible,’ InCubaToday (Oct. 14, 2016).

[5] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Treasury and Commerce Announce Further Amendments to Cuba Sanctions Regulations (Oct. 14, 2016).

[6] Raúl Castro as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba at its April 2016 Congress bluntly laid out Cuba’s economic problems, including state-owned enterprises’ inefficiencies, and the need to facilitate the growth and prosperity of private-owned businesses. (See Raúl Castro Discusses Socio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba (April 19, 2016).) See also, e.g., Other Signs of Cuban Regime’s Distress Over Economy (April 21, 2016); Cuban Press Offers Positive Articles About the Island’s Private Enterprise Sector (June 1, 2016).

[7] This blog repeatedly has objected to these “democracy promotion” programs and called for any such programs to be conducted with the cooperation of Cuban authorities. (See posts listed in “U.S. Democracy Promotion in Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.)

[8] See posts listed in “Cuban Medical Personnel & U.S.” and “Cuban Migration to U.S., 2015-2016” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[9] This blog has discussed various issues relating to Guantanamo Bay. (See posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA).

[10] These issues have been discussed in posts listed in “U.S. & Cuba Damage Claims” and “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA  and in and in Issues Regarding Cuba and U.S. Extradition of the Other’s Fugitives (Feb. 24, 2015).

[11] Ellizalde, Obama presidential directive is a significant step: Josefina Vidal, CubaDebate (Oct. 14, 2016).

United States-Cuba Bilateral Commission Meets To Review Normalization Status                                                                                                

On May 16, in Havana the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission held its third meeting to review the status of the countries’ efforts to normalize relations. The U.S. delegation was headed by Ambassador Kristie Kenney, currently serving as Counselor of the Department of State, who was assisted by John S. Creamer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State; and by U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy, Havana, Cuba. The Cuban delegation’s head was Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, the Director General of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of the United States.[1]

Before the meeting the U.S. State Department said it “will provide an opportunity to review progress on a number of shared priorities since the last Bilateral Commission meeting in November 2015, including progress made during the President’s historic trip to Cuba in March. The United States and Cuba expect to plan continued engagements on environmental protection, agriculture, law enforcement, health, migration, civil aviation, direct mail, maritime and port security, educational and cultural exchanges, telecommunications, trafficking in persons, regulatory issues, human rights, and claims for the remainder of 2016.”

Director General Vidal’s Press Conference

images

At a press conference after the meeting, Director General Vidal said the meeting had been “productive” and conducted in a “professional climate of mutual respect.” (A photograph of Vidal at the press conference is on the left.) The parties agreed to hold the fourth meeting of the Bilateral Commission in September 2016 in Washington, D.C.

Vidal also said she had told the U.S. delegation that Cuba reiterates its “appreciation for the positive results from President Obama’s visit to Cuba” that had been mentioned by President Raúl Castro during Obama’s visit. Indeed, she said, Cuba believes this visit is “a further step in the process towards improving relations” between the two countries and “can serve as an impetus to further advance this process.”[2]

Vidal acknowledged that there has been an increase in official visits as well as technical meetings on topics of common interest resulting in nine bilateral agreements to expand beneficial cooperation.[3]

According to Vidal, both delegations agreed on steps that will improve relations, including conducting high-level visits and technical exchanges on environmental, hydrography, and implementation and enforcement of the law, including fighting trafficking in drugs and people, and immigration fraud. The two countries also are getting ready to conclude new agreements to cooperate in areas such as health, agriculture, meteorology, seismology, terrestrial protected areas, response to oil-spill pollution, fighting drug trafficking and search and rescue, among others. They also are ready to start a dialogue on intellectual property and continue those relating to climate change and regulations in force in the two countries in the economic and trade area.

However, Vidal said, progress has not been as fast in the economic area because “the blockade [embargo] remains in force” despite the positive measures taken by President Obama to loosen U.S. restrictions. There still are significant U.S. restrictions on U.S. exports to Cuba and imports from Cuba. In addition, U.S. investments in Cuba are not allowed except in telecommunications, and there are no normal banking relations between the two countries. Therefore, Cuba stressed again the priority of the “lifting the economic, commercial and financial blockade [embargo].”

More specifically Vidal said Cuba had told the U.S. representative that in the last six months two American companies and one French company had been fined by the U.S. for maintaining links with Cuba while Cuba has had problems with 13 international banks’ closing accounts, denying money transfers or suspending all operations with Cuba. In addition, six service providers have ceased providing services to Cuban embassies and consulates in third countries (Turkey, Austria, Namibia and Canada).

In addition, the Cuban delegation, said Vidal, had reaffirmed the need for the U.S. to return to Cuba the territory [allegedly] illegally occupied by the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo. It “is the only case of a military base in the world that is based in a territory leased in perpetuity, which is an anomaly from the point of view of international law.[4] There is no similar example in the world and is the only instance of a military base in a foreign country against the will of the government and people of that country.

Vidal also mentioned the following U.S. policies and actions that needed to be changed:

  • the U.S. preferential migration policies for Cuban citizens, expressed in the existence of the policy of dry feet/wet feet;
  • the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act regarding those immigration policies;
  • the U.S. program of parole for Cuban health professionals;
  • the special U.S. radio and television broadcasts designed especially for Cuba (Radio and TV Marti); and
  • U.S. programs designed to bring about changes in the economic, political and social system of Cuba.[5]

These U.S. policies, according to Vidal, underscored “a huge contradiction” for the U.S. On the one hand, President Obama said in his speech in Cuba that the U.S. has neither the intention nor the ability to bring about change in Cuba and that in any case it was up to the people of Cuba to make their own decisions. On the other hand, the U.S. has programs with huge budgets ($20 million dollars every year) aimed at bringing about such change. If indeed there is neither the intention nor the ability to bring about change in Cuba, then there is no reason to have such programs.

Normalization, said Vidal, also needs to have protection of rights to trademarks and patents because there are Cuban companies owning well-known marks, which for reasons of the blockade and other reasons have been taken away from the Cubans.

Before the meeting, another Cuban Foreign Ministry official said that the parties previously had discussed, but not negotiated, with respect to Cuba’s claim for damages with respect to the U.S. embargo and the U.S. claims for compensation for property expropriated by the Cuban government. At the meeting itself, according to a Cuban statement, the Cubans had delivered a list of its most recent alleged damages from the blockade (embargo).

U.S. Embassy Statement

The U.S. Embassy in Havana after this Bilateral Commission meeting issued a shorter, but similar, statement about the “respectful and productive” discussions. “Both governments recognized significant steps made toward greater cooperation in environmental protection, civil aviation, direct mail, maritime and port security, health, agriculture, educational and cultural exchanges, and regulatory issues. The parties also discussed dialogues on human rights and claims, and the [U.S.] looks forward to holding these meetings in the near future.”

Conclusion

Since the actual meeting was conducted in secret, it is difficult to assess what was actually accomplished except through officials’ subsequent public comments.

On May 17, the two countries conducted their second Law Enforcement Dialogue, which will be discussed in a subsequent post.

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[1] U.S. Department of State, United States and Cuba to Hold Third Bilateral Commission Meeting in Havana, Cuba (May 12, 2016); Gomez, MINREX: relations between Cuba and the United States would advance more nonblocking, Granma (May 12, 2016); Reuters, Cuba and U.S. Officials to Meet Next Week to Deepen Detente, N.Y. Times (May 12, 2016); Francisco & Elizalde, Cuba-US Bilateral commission: a productive meeting, Josefina Vidal  (+ Photos and Video), CubaDebate (May 16, 2016); Assoc. Press, Top Cuba Diplomat: Obama Trip Positive, Created Momentum, N.Y. Times (May 16, 2016); Reuters, Cuba and United States Draw Up Roadmap for Talks to Deepen Détente, N.Y. Times (May 16, 2016); Gomez, Cuba and the United States defines ambitious agenda for the coming months, Granma (May 16, 2016); U.S. Embassy, Havana, Cuba, Third Bilateral Commission Meeting in Havana (May 16, 2016); Press release issued by the Cuban delegation to the Third Meeting of the Cuba-U.S. Bilateral Commission, Granma (May 17, 2016); Cuba and U.S. set ambitious agenda for coming months, CubaDebate (May 17, 2016).

[2] Vidal’s positive comment about Obama’s visit is in sharp contrast to the negative comments about the visit from Vidal’s superior, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at the recent Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba. (See Conclusion of Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (April 20, 2016).)

[3] Beforehand an official of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said that since the December 2014 announcement of détente the parties had signed nine agreements covering the environment, email, navigation safety, agriculture and travel. In addition, the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) had signed agreements with three U.S. companies for cellular roaming in Cuba; a U.S. company (Starwood) had an agreement to manage several Cuban hotels; and the Carnival cruise lines had made a maiden voyage to the island.

[4] The U.S., however, contends that the lease is not in perpetuity, but for so long as the U.S. uses it as a “naval station.” This is one of the potential issues to be resolved in an international arbitration as suggested in a previous post. (Does Cuba Have a Right To Terminate the U.S. Lease of Guantanamo Bay? dwkcommentaries.com (April 26, 2015).)

[5] Prior posts have concurred in the Cuban requests for ending all of these U.S. programs and policies. See Topical List of Posts—Cuba.

Continued Cuban Migrant Problems in Central America

Since late last year large numbers of Cuban migrants have traveled by land through Central America to try to reach the U.S.-Mexico border where they will be paroled into the U.S.[1]

This movement of Cubans continues, and on May 9, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela announced he had agreed with his Mexican counterpart to fly 3,800 Cubans already stranded for weeks in Panama to the Mexico-U.S. border at the Cubans’ expense. The flights began that day and will last two to three weeks.[2]

Varela said it was a difficult decision, but necessary because Nicaragua closed its border to Cubans last year and impeded their journey north and more recently Costa Rica had done likewise. As a result, this March Panama organized flights to Mexico for 1,300 Cubans while insisting such flights would not be repeated.

On May 9 the Panamanian government took additional action to confront this problem by closing its southern border with Colombia in an effort to stop the flow. “We’ve taken the difficult decision to close the border with Colombia in the Puerto Obaldia area and in other parts of the border to prevent the trafficking of illegal immigrants,” Varela said.

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[1] Here are a few of the posts regarding Cuban migrants in Central America: Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Costa Rica (Dec. 30, 2015); Cuban Migration Developments (Jan. 21, 2016); Another Cuban Migrant Problem in Central America (April 17, 2016).

[2] Reuters, Panama Closes Border With Colombia to Stem Migrant Flow, N.Y. Times (May 9, 2016); Assoc. Press, Panama Closes Border to Cubans, Flies Others to Mexico, N.Y. Times (May 9, 2016); Panama begins more flights of Cuban migrants to Mexico, BBC News (May 9, 2016); Wyss, Cuban migrants face dangerous, grueling jungle trip as Panama clamps down, Miami Herald (May 9, 2016).

Raúl Castro Discusses Cuba-U.S. Relations in Report to Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba 

The major event of the first day (April 16) of the four-day Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba was the two-hour, live televised address by Raúl Castro, the First Secretary of its Central Committee (and also President and General of the Army).[1] Most of this address concerned the country’s internal socio-economic and other issues, which will be covered in a subsequent post, while a prior post provided an overview of the Congress. This post will focus on his discussion of Cuba-U.S. relations. Here is what he had to say on that subject near the end of the speech along with this blogger’s reactions.

Castro’s Remarks

“Fifteen months have transpired since we announced, simultaneously with President Barack Obama, the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, on the basis of sovereign equality, non-interference in domestic affairs, and absolute respect for our independence. Hours before this speech, Fidel’s promise to the Cuban people was kept, with the completion of the return to the homeland of the Cuban Five.”

“We have reached this point thanks to the heroic resistance and sacrifice of the Cuban people, and their loyalty to the Revolution’s ideals and principles, supported by decisive international solidarity, made clear in multiple events and international organizations, in particular the overwhelming votes in the United Nations General Assembly against the blockade.”

“The political map of Our America had changed, given the advance of political forces on the left and popular movements, which contributed to progress in regional integration, symbolized by the constituting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), in December of 2011.”

“All of this placed the [U.S.] in an untenable situation of isolation within the hemisphere, and put the so-called inter-American system in crisis, as was made evident by the demand to end the blockade and opposition to the exclusion of Cuba from the 6th Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, in 2012.”

“On the other hand, changes have been occurring in U.S. society, and in the Cuban émigré community, in favor of the modification of the [U.S.’] policy toward Cuba.”

“In April of last year, we attended the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama, with our heads held high. . . .”

“Throughout the period . . . since December of 2014, concrete results have been achieved in the dialogue and in cooperation between Cuba and the [U.S.] Nevertheless, the economic, commercial and financial blockade, imposed more than half a century ago, remains in force, with unquestionably intimidating, extraterritorial effects, although we recognize the position taken by President Obama and high-ranking administration officials against the blockade, and their repeated appeals to Congress in the interest of eliminating it.”

“The measures announced prior to [President Obama’s] visit to Havana, to introduce some modifications in the blockade’s implementation, on the basis of his executive powers, are positive but insufficient.”

“As we expressed in the meeting between the two Presidents with the press, to advance toward normalization of relations, it is imperative to eliminate the blockade, which causes our population hardship and constitutes the principal obstacle to economic development of the country; and return the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base against the will of the Cuban government and people.”

“Likewise, [U.S.] programs directed toward changing the political, economic and social system, which we have chosen sovereignly, must be ended, along with other damaging policies still in effect.”

U.S. immigration “policy continues to be used as a weapon against the Revolution. The Cuban Adjustment Law, the “wet foot-dry foot” policy, and the Parole program for Cuban medical professionals remain in effect, to encourage illegal and unsafe emigration, and seeking to deprive us of qualified personnel.”[2]

“These practices do not reflect the stated change of policy toward Cuba, and generate difficulties for third countries.”

“There are more than a few U.S. government officials who upon recognizing the failure of their policy toward Cuba, make no attempt to disguise their affirmations that the goals remain the same, only the means are being modified.”

“We are willing to carry out a respectful dialogue and construct a new type of relationship with the [U.S.], one which has never existed between the two countries, because we are convinced that this alone could produce mutual benefits.”

“However, it is imperative to reiterate that no one should assume that to achieve this Cuba must renounce the Revolution’s principles, or make concessions to the detriment of its sovereignty and independence, or forego the defense of its ideals or the exercise of its foreign policy – committed to just causes, the defense of self-determination, and our traditional support to sister countries.”

“As the Constitution of the Republic stipulates, ‘Economic, diplomatic or political relations with any other state can never be negotiated under aggression, threats, or coercion by a foreign power.’”

“The road to normalization of bilateral ties is long and complex, and we will advance to the extent we are capable of putting into practice the art of civilized coexistence, or in other words, accept and respect our differences which are, and will be, profound; not making them the center of our relations, but rather concentrating on what brings us closer and not what separates us, promoting what is beneficial to both countries.”

“Relations with the [U.S.] have historically represented a challenge for Cuba, given their permanent pretension of exercising domination over our nation, and the determination of Cubans to be free and independent, regardless of the dangers to be faced, or the price we would have to pay.”

“The people’s unity with the Party, its profound patriotism and political culture, which have allowed us to confront the policy of aggression and hostility, will serve as a shield to defeat any attempt to undermine the revolutionary spirit of Cubans. This will be a challenge, especially for the youngest, who the Party recognizes as the continuators of the Revolution’s work and of the patriotic convictions of their grandparents and parents.”

Castro then launched into a defense of its Latin American allies against an unnamed foe (the U.S.):

  • “Latin America and the Caribbean find themselves experiencing the effects of a strong, articulated counteroffensive, on the part of imperialism and oligarchies, against revolutionary and progressive governments, in a difficult context marked by the deceleration of the economy, which has negatively impacted the continuity of policies directed toward development and social inclusion, and the conquests won by popular sectors.”
  • “This reactionary attack uses methods and technologies specific to the new doctrine of unconventional war, especially in the area of communications and culture, without ruling out attempts at destabilization and coups.”
  • “This policy is principally directed toward the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and has been intensified in recent months in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil, as well as Nicaragua and El Salvador.”
  • “Recent setbacks for governments of the left in the hemisphere are being used to announce the end of a progressive historical cycle, opening the way for the return of neoliberalism and demoralization of political forces and parties, social movements and working classes, which we must confront with more unity and increased articulation of revolutionary action.”
  • “We hold the firm conviction that the Venezuelan people will defend the legacy of our beloved compañero Hugo Chávez Frías, and prevent the dismantling of the accomplishments achieved. To the Bolivarian and Chavista Revolution, to President Maduro and his government, and to the civic-military union of the Venezuelan people, we reiterate our solidarity, our commitment, and energetic rejection of efforts to isolate Venezuela while dialoging with Cuba.”
  • “We demand that the sovereignty and independence of states be respected, and that interference in domestic affairs cease. At the same time, we reaffirm our firm support to all revolutionary and progressive governments, headed by prestigious leaders, whose economic and social policies have led to justice, dignity, sovereignty, and tangible benefits for the great majority, in the world’s most unequal region.”
  • “Also being renewed are efforts by the [U.S.] and their allies to undermine unity and the process of regional integration, frustrate the advance of CELAC, ALBA, UNASUR, and others, through a supposed reform of the inter-American system, in particular the OAS, attempting to promote the leading role of other schemes more compatible with their hegemonic interests.”
  • “We will never forget that the OAS – the Organization of American States – founded by the [U.S.]during the second half of the past century, at the beginning of the Cold War, has only served interests which contradict those of Our America. This organization, rightly described as the “Ministry of colonies” of the [U.S.] by the Foreign Minister of Dignity, compañero Raúl Roa García, was the one that sanctioned Cuba, and was ready to offer support and recognition to a puppet government, if the mercenary invasion at Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs] had been successful. The list of actions it took against the nascent Cuban Revolution, and other revolutionary and progressive governments, is interminable.”

Cuba’s diatribe against the U.S. was broadened to include the rest of the world with this statement by Castro: “Increasingly more serious are threats to international peace and security, as a result of U.S. imperialism’s attempts to impose its hegemonic position in the face of changes in the world’s equilibrium, and of the philosophy of usurpation and control of strategic natural resources, made evident by the increasingly offensive and aggressive military doctrine of NATO; the proliferation of non-conventional wars under the pretext of fighting “international terrorism;” the sharpening of differences with Russia and China; and the danger of a war in the Middle East of incalculable dimensions.”

Earlier in the address, Castro sought to rebut U.S. complaints about Cuban human rights with these words: Cuba is a party to 44 international treaties on human rights while the U.S. is only party to 18.[3] Moreover, “equal pay for equal work, whether for a man or woman, is a human right [in Cuba]. In other countries, including the [U.S., it is not, women earn less and thus dozens of supposed human rights can be cited. Free medical care in Cuba is a human right. In many other countries, this is not a human right, it is a business. In our country, education is free, in how many countries of the world is education free? It’s a business, too. That is, we will discuss this issue of human rights with anyone and anywhere whatsoever, and we will recognize those who are in the right.”

Raúl then made a joke about political rights. “When they say to me that in Cuba there is only one party. And I answer them, ‘Yes, like you, you have a single party,’ and the North Americans answer me: “No, we have two.” And as if I did not know, they tell me their names, ‘Democratic and Republican.’ ‘Correct, that’s right, it’s the same as if we were to have two parties in Cuba, Fidel would head one and I the other.’”

Conclusion

Given the prior public positions of the Cuban government, Castro did not say anything new on the subject of Cuba-U.S. relations. As expressed in many earlier posts, I agree that the U.S. should end its embargo of Cuba, its special immigration policies regarding Cubans and its covert or “discreet” programs purportedly promoting democracy in Cuba.

I also recognize that Cuba repeatedly has alleged that the U.S. occupation of Guantanamo Bay is illegal, but saying so does not make it so, and this blog has suggested that the dispute on this issue is unlikely to be resolved in discussions and negotiations, but instead should be submitted for resolution to an independent court like the International Court of Arbitration at the Hague along with any damage claims asserted by Cuba with respect to the embargo.

Another point of disagreement with Castro is his assertion that the U.S. goal of Cuban regime change is the same, but that the means have changed. Yes, the U.S. vigorously advocates for the right of Cubans to elect their leaders by popular vote, for the right of Cubans to protest and demonstrate against the government and to express their opinions without arrest and arbitrary detention and for the empowerment of Cubans to engage in self-employment and business. If they had such rights, that might lead to changes in the Cuban economy and government, but those changes would be chosen by the Cuban people, not imposed upon them by the U.S.

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[1] Congress documents will be submitted to a broad discussion, Granma (April 16, 2016); 7th Party Congress underway, Granma (April 16, 2016); Raúl Castro, Central Report to 7th Congress of Communist Party of Cuba, Granma (April 16, 2016) (text in original Spanish); Raúl Castro, Central Report to 7th Congress of Communist Party of Cuba,  Granma (April 17, 2016) (text in English translation); Burnett, Raúl Castro Urges Cubans to Remain Alert to U.S. Efforts to Alter Communist System, N.Y. Times (April 16, 2016); Reuters, Castro Hardens Rhetoric, Warns Cubans to Be Alert to U.S. Intentions, N.Y. Times (April 16, 2016); Assoc. Press, Raul Castro Presents Grim Picture of Cuban Reforms, N.Y. Times (April 16, 2016); Torres, Raúl Castro proposes age limits on key jobs in CCP, Miami Herald (April 16, 2016);Raúl Castro derides US democracy in speech to Cuban Communist Party, Guardian (April 16, 2016); Editorial, Rhetoric and reality in Cuba, El Pais (April 17, 2016).

[2] Earlier in the speech Castro said, “Illegal and disorderly emigration of youth and specialists from various sectors is encouraged under the Cuban Adjustment Act, the “wet foot-dry foot” policy and the Parole Program, that is, permission to reside in the United States, granted with absolute speed, for our doctors, who provide services abroad.”

[3] Castro did not list the human rights treaties in question, and this blogger has not attempted to verify the assertion that Cuba was a party to 44 such treaties. Prior posts have pointed out that the U.S. is a party to 16 major such treaties while signing, but not ratifying 9 others and not signing and ratifying 7 others: Multilateral Human Rights Treaties Ratified by the U.S. (Feb. 9, 2013); Multilateral Treaties Signed, But Not Ratified by the U.S. (Feb. 12, 2013); Multilateral Human Rights Treaties That Have Not Been Signed and Ratified by the U.S. (Feb. 16, 2013)

President Obama Should Exercise His Legal Authority To End U.S. Admission of Cubans Arriving with “Dry Feet”

The U.S. has a law and policy that allows Cubans who arrive on land (with “dry feet”) in the U.S. to be admitted to the U.S. without visas and to be eligible one-year later to apply for permanent residency[1] This blog repeatedly has called for that law and policy to be ended because it is antithetical to the U.S.’ having a normal relationship with Cuba.[2]

A related and important legal issue is whether the president by executive order may end that law and policy. This post will examine how this law and policy work and whether the president, without Congress, may end that policy of admitting those Cubans arriving on land.

 How the Current Law and Policy Work

 The Cuban Adjustment Act of November 2, 1976, as amended, allows any Cuban “native or citizen who has been inspected and admitted or paroled into” the U.S., after one year of “physical presence,” to apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to adjust his or her U.S. legal status to permanent resident alien. Such an adjustment, however, is not automatic or guaranteed by that Act. Instead, the Act provides that the Attorney General has “discretion” to do so if the Cuban applicant “is eligible to receive an immigrant visa and is admissible to the [U.S.] for permanent residence.” If the applicant does not satisfy those requirements, the Attorney General has the discretion to deny the application.[3]

The admissibility requirement involves examination of the applicant’s health; any criminal history in or outside the U.S., especially involving “crimes of moral turpitude,” prostitution, “commercialized vice;” participation in, or support of, terrorist activities; military or paramilitary activities; membership in the Communist Party; and other issues.

Recently many Cubans have been fearing that the U.S. will abolish this policy and have been leaving the island, especially through Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and then on through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to reach the U.S. Now many are stranded in Costa Rica and Panama. (See n.2.)

How Can the U.S. Dry Feet Policy Be Abolished?

Significantly, in my opinion, the Cuban Adjustment Act does not require the U.S. to admit into the country any and all Cubans who arrive by land. Indeed, it says nothing whatsoever about that issue. Instead the Act only provides a benefit (the right to file an application to become a permanent resident alien of the U.S.) after he or she has been in the U.S. for a year after having been “inspected and admitted or paroled into” the U.S.

This fact about the law has been recognized by by a respected U.S. academic commentator on U.S.-Cuba issues—William LeGrande. He concludes that the “’dry foot’ policy . . . is a matter of executive discretion [and] could be rescinded by the attorney general without prior notice.” In short, stop admitting such Cubans into the U.S.[4]

On the other hand, in my opinion, the Administration does not have the legal authority, without congressional adoption of a statute to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act, to stop considering applications for permanent residency, based upon the facts and law, submitted by Cubans who have been in the U.S. for at least one year.

Meanwhile, some Cuban-Americans in Congress are voicing opposition to that policy because it has been allowing Cubans who are granted legal status in the U.S. under that policy to return repeatedly to Cuba. And one Republican Congressman, Paul Gosar (AZ), on October 23 introduced a bill to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act and the policy. (Ending Special National Origin-Based Immigration Programs for Cubans Act of 2015 (H.R. 3818)); with nine cosponsors it has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.[5] :

Conclusion

This commentator, therefore, concludes that the president has the authority to cease admitting into the U.S. any and all Cubans who arrive at the U.S. border and that he should exercise that authority and do just that. (U.S. immigration law is very complex and I do not have intimate knowledge of its many details. Therefore, I would appreciate anyone with such knowledge to point out any errors in my analysis and conclusion.)

Moreover, the president should do so immediately because of the large number of Cuban migrants stranded in Central America on their journey to the U.S.

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[1] Cubans who are intercepted at sea and thus have “wet feet” are returned to Cuba by the U.S. unless at sea they assert a fear of persecution if returned to Cuba. This is a result of September 1994 and February 1995 agreements or accords between the U.S. and Cuba to seek to stop Cubans from taking dangerous journeys in small boats in the Caribbean to try to reach the U.S.

[2] E.g., Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity To Reiterate Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); Assoc. Press, Costa Rica Asks Belize to Accept Stranded Cuban Migrants, N.Y. Times (Dec. 4, 2015).

[3] Cuban Adjustment Act, Pub. Law 89-732 (Nov. 2, 1966)(as amended); USCIS, Green Card for a Cuban Native or Citizen; U.S.CIS, Green Card Eligibility; USCIS, Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status; USCIS, Instructions for I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status; CLINIC PowerPoint, Cuban Adjustment Act (Mar. 19, 2014); Cuban Adjustment Act, Wikipediia. Some commentators have argued that the statute’s saying the Attorney General has “discretion” to grant permanent residency means that the president, without Congress, may abolish the “dry foot” policy. CDA, The Doorbell in the Wall (Nov. 20, 2015); Muse, U.S. Presidential Action on Cuba: The New Normalization? Americas Quarterly.) This “discretion” language, however, in my opinion, has nothing to do with whether the president has the authority to end the policy without congressional approval.

[4] LeoGrande, A New Crisis of Cuban Migration, N.Y. Times (Dec. 5, 2015).

[5] Gosar, Rep. Gosar Introduces a Bill to End Wet Foot/Dry Foot Policy and Stop Cuban Amnesty (Oct. 23, 2015).

 

 

Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America

A prior post discussed the conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua over Cubans trying to traverse Central American countries on their way to the United States. Since then, the foreign ministers of the eight countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and of other interested countries (Cuba, Ecuador and Colombia) held an inconclusive meeting to discuss that situation and thereafter Ecuador announced a change in its policies for Cuban migrants. Here is a summary of those developments.

Situation of Cubans in Central America

An estimated 3,000 Cubans are now stuck in Costa Rica over Nicaragua’s refusing to allow their entry into that country for their journey to the U.S. Many of these Cubans have smart phones and social media that have assisted them in their trek from Ecuador to Central America and, they hope, on to the U.S.[1]

SICA Foreign Ministers Meeting

The situation of the Cuban migrants was the focus of the just mentioned SICA meeting on Tuesday (November 24) . Note that the U.S. was not present or invited.[2]

The situation was prompted by Nicaragua’s refusing to admit Cuban migrants from Costa Rica. Nicaragua said Costa Rica had created and manipulated this crisis by seeking to ignore the real cause: the U.S. immigration policies that need to be changed. “Our governments do not have the resources to deal with this new threat to our national security,” suggesting that Nicaragua was faced with the wave of Cubans that could facilitate terrorism or migrants from other countries. Nicaragua also criticized the Cold-War-era U.S. policies that allow the Cubans special status as migrants.

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Cubans in Costa Rica came legally to different nations of Latin America, with all the requirements established by the migratory regulations of their country. “In an attempt to reach U.S. territory, [however,] they have become victims of traffickers and criminal gangs, which unscrupulously profit from the control of the passage of these people through South America, Central America and Mexico.” Moreover, Cuba stated that the migrants also were victims of the politicization of the migration issue by the U.S. government, through the Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet-foot, dry-foot policy.”

Cuba also said it has remained in contact with the governments of the countries involved. Indeed, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parilla, visited officials of its allies, Ecuador and Nicaragua, on November 19 and 20 respectfully to discuss the situation.

Ecuador supported Nicaragua’s position by saying that under international law creation of humanitarian corridors only applies in situations of war or armed conflict which was not the case here.

The Salvadoran Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hugo Martinez, afterwards said it was necessary to reach a comprehensive solution that addressed the current immigration crisis. He also said that El Salvador will ask the International Organization for Migration to support Costa Rica in shelter conditions for the Cuban migrants. However, he said, allowing the passage of the migrants was subject to the “principle of self-determination” of each of the SICA countries and that the migration was not encouraged by the country of origin (Cuba) or by the Central American countries, but by the U.S. with its special immigration policies for Cubans.

After the meeting Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister, Manuel Gonzalez, said that Nicaragua had refused again to cooperate in finding and adopting a solution for the migrants.

The solution proposed by Costa Rica was an arrangement to enable the safe, orderly and documented transit of the Cuban migrants so that they would avoid falling prey to international trafficking networks. According to Gonzalez, Nicaragua objected to this proposal and did not present any viable alternative approach.

Ecuador’s Requiring Visas for Cubans

On November 26 Ecuador announced that effective December 1 it will require Cubans to have visas to enter the country. Ecuador’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Xavier Lasso, said this change was to honor commitments it made at the SICA meeting “to stop human rights violations and even loss of lives” and to halt threats to Cuba’s population. Lasso also urged the U.S. to rescind its “dry feet” immigration policy so that Cubans would no longer attempt this journey.[3]

The next day hundreds of Cubans gathered at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Havana to protest the new visa policy. They were angry because they say they had bought airplane tickets to Ecuador before visas were required. An Embassy spokesman said the Cubans would have to get a new visa and speak to the airlines about refunds.[4]

Conclusion

I agree that special immigration benefits for Cubans arriving on land in the U.S. and the risk that these benefits will be eliminated are prompting many Cubans to try to come to the U.S. as soon as possible. I also agree that these U.S. laws and policies should be eliminated as soon as possible.[5] In a future post I will attempt at least a preliminary legal analysis of the claim that the Obama Administration on its own by executive order or changes in regulations could do this.

I also agree that the U.S. should abolish the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program as discussed in prior posts.[6] Again I have not attempted to determine whether the Obama Administration on its own by executive order or changes in regulations could do this or whether it requires Congress to pass a bill. (I would appreciate comments on this issue by those with more knowledge of the issues.)

The continuation of these U.S. immigration laws and policies will clearly be at the top of the Cuban agenda for the biannual round of bilateral discussion of migration issues in Washington, D.C. on November 30. Now Cuba will emphasize the recent Cuban migrant situation in Central America as an additional reason for prompt U.S. action.[7]

I originally was baffled by the U.S.’ continued assertions that there would be no changes in U.S. immigration policies regarding Cuba because those policies, in my opinion, are so illogical and inappropriate for countries with normal relations. Now I suspect that those assertions were based upon the Administration’s assessment of the difficulty (or impossibility) in obtaining Congressional approval of any necessary legislative changes on these issues and the Administration’s belief or hope that such assertions would discourage Cubans from immediately accelerating their plans or desire to leave Cuba for the U.S.

I reach these conclusions even though I suspect that Nicaragua’s precipitating the current problem in Central America was at the request of its close ally, Cuba, because, in my opinion, (a) Nicaragua would not do anything regarding Cuba against the latter’s wishes; (b) Cuba is concerned about the number of Cubans leaving the island and with Nicaragua’s assistance perhaps could stop a major route for such an exodus; (c) Cuba would like to have another occasion or reason to blame the U.S. for the problem; and (d) Nicaragua’s complaints against Costa Rica are absurd. I also believe, for similar reasons, that Ecuador’s recent requirement of visas for Cubans was at the request of Cuba.

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 [1] Assoc. Press, Social Media Helps Drive Historic Cuban Exodus to US, N.Y. Times (Nov. 23, 2015).

[2] Sica meeting will address situation of Cuban migrants in Central America, Granma (Nov. 20, 2015); Cuban Foreign Minister held working visit to Ecuador and Nicaragua, Granma (Nov. 22, 2015); Begins Tuesday SICA meeting on migration in Central America, Granma (Nov. 23, 2015); Moran, Cuban migration could generate humanitarian crisis, ContraPunto (Nov. 23, 2015); Assoc. Press, Central American Officials Meet on Cuban Migrant Problem, N.Y> Times (Nov. 24, 2015); Foreign Ministers Discuss in El Salvador on Cuban Migrants Situation, Prensa Latina (Nov. 24, 2015); SICA meeting solution Cuban migrants issue in Costa Rica, CubaDebate (Nov. 24, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Ministry, Nicaragua PREVENTS regional and humanitarian solution for protection of Cuban Migrants (Nov. 24, 2015); Moran, Nicaragua blocks outlet for Cuban immigrants, ContraPunto (Nov. 24, 2015); SICA Meeting in El Salvador: Regional gathering discusses situation of Cuban migrants in Costa Rica, Granma (Nov. 25, 2015); Gomez, Central America, a broker of broken dreams, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015).

[3] Ecuador Foreign Ministry, Ecuador requests tourist visas to Cubans starting December 1 (Nov. 26, 2015); From December 1 Ecuador requires visas for Cubans, El Commercio (Nov. 26, 2015); Ecuador asked the Cuban visa from December 1 (+ Note of the Foreign Ministry), CubaDebate (Nov. 26, 2015); Ecuador announces visa requirement for Cubans, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015); Assoc. Press, Ecuador to Require Cubans to Get Entry Visas, N.Y. times (Nov. 26, 2015); Cubans need visas to enter Ecuador again, LaHora (Nov. 27, 2015); Soraya, Ecuador puts a stop to the arrival of Cubans, El Pais (Nov. 27, 2015).

[4] Reuters, Cubans Protest New Ecuador Visa Regulation, N.Y. Times (Nov. 27, 2015); Assoc. Press, Hundreds Gather in Havana in Frustration at Ecuador Visa Rule, N.Y. Times (Nov. 27, 2015).

[5] E.g., Results of U.S.-Cuba Discussions After Ceremonial Opening of U.S. Embassy in Havana (Aug. 18, 2015).

[6] E.g., New York Times Calls for End of U.S. Program for Special Immigration Relief for Cuban Medical Personnel ( Nov. 23, 2014)

[7] Cuban Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the United States will hold a new round of migration talks, Granma (Nov. 26, 2015); U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Migration Talks, Counter-Narcotics Dialogue (Nov. 25, 2015)