Fidel Castro Challenges President Obama’s Call To Forget the Past 

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro

On March 28, Fidel Castro published a lengthy commentary on President Obama’s recent trip to Cuba In the Spanish-language original edition of Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party. Here is the complete commentary from Granma’s English translation of those comments followed by my reactions.[1]

Fidel’s Commentary

“The kings of Spain brought us the conquistadores and masters, whose footprints remained in the circular land grants assigned to those searching for gold in the sands of rivers, an abusive and shameful form of exploitation, traces of which can be noted from the air in many places around the country.”

“Tourism today, in large part, consists of viewing the delights of our landscapes and tasting exquisite delicacies from our seas, and is always shared with the private capital of large foreign corporations, whose earnings, if they don’t reach billions of dollars, are not worthy of any attention whatsoever.”

“Since I find myself obliged to mention the issue, I must add – principally for the youth – that few people are aware of the importance of such a condition, in this singular moment of human history. I would not say that time has been lost, but I do not hesitate to affirm that we are not adequately informed, not you, nor us, of the knowledge and conscience that we must have to confront the realities which challenge us. The first to be taken into consideration is that our lives are but a fraction of a historical second, which must also be devoted in part to the vital necessities of every human being. One of the characteristics of this condition is the tendency to overvalue its role, in contrast, on the other hand, with the extraordinary number of persons who embody the loftiest dreams.”

“Nevertheless, no one is good or bad entirely on their own. None of us is designed for the role we must assume in a revolutionary society, although Cubans had the privilege of José Martí’s example. I even ask myself if he needed to die or not in Dos Ríos, when he said, “For me, it’s time,” and charged the Spanish forces entrenched in a solid line of firepower. He did not want to return to the United States, and there was no one who could make him. Someone ripped some pages from his diary. Who bears this treacherous responsibility, undoubtedly the work of an unscrupulous conspirator? Differences between the leaders were well known, but never indiscipline. “Whoever attempts to appropriate Cuba will reap only the dust of its soil drenched in blood, if he does not perish in the struggle,” stated the glorious Black leader Antonio Maceo. Máximo Gómez is likewise recognized as the most disciplined and discreet military chief in our history.”

“Looking at it from another angle, how can we not admire the indignation of Bonifacio Byrne when, from a distant boat returning him to Cuba, he saw another flag alongside that of the single star and declared, “My flag is that which has never been mercenary…” immediately adding one of the most beautiful phrases I have ever heard, “If it is torn to shreds, it will be my flag one day… our dead raising their arms will still be able to defend it!” Nor will I forget the blistering words of Camilo Cienfuegos that night, when, just some tens of meters away, bazookas and machine guns of U.S. origin in the hands of counterrevolutionaries were pointed toward that terrace on which we stood.”

“Obama was born in August of 1961, as he himself explained. More than half a century has transpired since that time.”

“Let us see, however, how our illustrious guest thinks today:”

“I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” followed by a deluge of concepts entirely novel for the majority of us:

“We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans,” the U.S. President continued, “Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa. Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave-owners.”

“The native populations don’t exist at all in Obama’s mind. Nor does he say that the Revolution swept away racial discrimination, or that pensions and salaries for all Cubans were decreed by it before Mr. Barrack Obama was 10 years old. The hateful, racist bourgeois custom of hiring strongmen to expel Black citizens from recreational centers was swept away by the Cuban Revolution – that which would go down in history for the battle against apartheid that liberated Angola, putting an end to the presence of nuclear weapons on a continent of more than a billion inhabitants. This was not the objective of our solidarity, but rather to help the peoples of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and others under the fascist colonial domination of Portugal.”

“In 1961, just one year and three months after the triumph of the Revolution, a mercenary force with armored artillery and infantry, backed by aircraft, trained and accompanied by U.S. warships and aircraft carriers, attacked our country by surprise. Nothing can justify that perfidious attack which cost our country hundreds of losses, including deaths and injuries

As for the pro-yankee assault brigade, no evidence exists anywhere that it was possible to evacuate a single mercenary. Yankee combat planes were presented before the United Nations as the equipment of a Cuban uprising.”

“The military experience and power of this country is very well known. In Africa, they likewise believed that revolutionary Cuba would be easily taken out of the fight. The invasion via southern Angola by racist South African motorized brigades got close to Luanda, the capital in the eastern part of the country. There a struggle began which went on for no less than 15 years. I wouldn’t even talk about this, if I didn’t have the elemental duty to respond to Obama’s speech in Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater.

Nor will I attempt to give details, only emphasize that an honorable chapter in the struggle for human liberation was written there. In a certain way, I hoped Obama’s behavior would be correct. His humble origin and natural intelligence were evident. Mandela was imprisoned for life and had become a giant in the struggle for human dignity. One day, a copy of a book narrating part of Mandela’s life reached my hands, and – surprise! – the prologue was by Barack Obama. I rapidly skimmed the pages. The miniscule size of Mandela’s handwriting noting facts was incredible. Knowing men such as him was worthwhile.”

?Regarding the episode in South Africa I must point out another experience. I was really interested in learning more about how the South Africans had acquired nuclear weapons. I only had very precise information that there were no more than 10 or 12 bombs. A reliable source was the professor and researcher Piero Gleijeses, who had written the text Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976, an excellent piece. I knew he was the most reliable source on what had happened and I told him so; he responded that he had not spoken more about the matter as in the text he had responded to questions from compañero Jorge Risquet, who had been Cuban ambassador and collaborator in Angola, a very good friend of his. I located Risquet; already undertaking other important tasks he was finishing a course which would last several weeks longer. That task coincided with a fairly recent visit by Piero to our country; I had warned him that Risquet was getting on and his health was not great. A few days later what I had feared occurred. Risquet deteriorated and died. When Piero arrived there was nothing to do except make promises, but I had already received information related to the weapons and the assistance that racist South Africa had received from Reagan and Israel.”

‘I do not know what Obama would have to say about this story now. I am unaware as to what he did or did not know, although it is very unlikely that he knew absolutely nothing. My modest suggestion is that he gives it thought and does not attempt now to elaborate theories on Cuban policy.’

“T’here is an important issue:’

‘Obama made a speech in which he uses the most sweetened words to express: “It is time, now, to forget the past, leave the past behind, let us look to the future together, a future of hope. And it won’t be easy, there will be challenges and we must give it time; but my stay here gives me more hope in what we can do together as friends, as family, as neighbors, together.”’

‘I suppose all of us were at risk of a heart attack upon hearing these words from the President of the United States. After a ruthless blockade that has lasted almost 60 years, and what about those who have died in the mercenary attacks on Cuban ships and ports, an airliner full of passengers blown up in midair, mercenary invasions, multiple acts of violence and coercion?’

‘Nobody should be under the illusion that the people of this dignified and selfless country will renounce the glory, the rights, or the spiritual wealth they have gained with the development of education, science and culture.’

‘I also warn that we are capable of producing the food and material riches we need with the efforts and intelligence of our people. We do not need the empire to give us anything. Our efforts will be legal and peaceful, as this is our commitment to peace.”

Reactions to Fidel’s Commentary

Castro criticizes the U.S. support for the invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and other actions against Cuba. But Obama in his speech mentioned some of these actions and implicitly apologized for them by saying, “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.”

Another assertion by Fidel was the Cuban “Revolution swept away racial discrimination” and Obama failed to recognize that accomplishment. Yes, it is true that Obama did not make such a statement, and instead said that both countries need “to reduce discrimination based on race in our own countries.” Moreover, as a prior post noted, many believe that Cuba still faced problems of racial bias despite the Revolution’s accomplishments on the issue.

Fidel also had a lot to say about Cuba’s involvement in helping the Angolans to combat South African apartheid regime and Obama’s failure to acknowledge those efforts. Yes, Obama did not discuss those issues, but his purpose was not to discuss everything that Cuba has done. Obama, however, did commend Cuba for “the service that thousands of Cuban doctors have delivered for the poor and suffering” around the world, including their work “to save lives and stamp out Ebola in West Africa” while working “side-by-side” with the U.S. health-care workers and military.

More generally Fidel seems upset with Obama’s “sweetened words to leave the past behind” and “to look forward to the future together” and thereby ignore the accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution. But Obama did acknowledge respect for Cuba’s ”sovereignty” and “self-determination” and “system of education that values every boy and girl” as well as “the talent, hard work, and pride of the Cuban people.” Obama also respectfully raised up Cuban artists (Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan), food (ropa vieja), dance (Cha-cha-Cha and Salsa), customs (patriotism, sense of pride, love of family and passion for their children) and religion (Lady of Charity).

Other comments by Fidel, in my opinion, are snipings about “large foreign corporations” obtaining some of the profits from increased tourism in Cuba and about his country’s alleged ability “of producing the food and material riches we need with the efforts and intelligence of our people” and not needing “the empire to give us anything.” Yet increased tourism has exacerbated shortages of food and increased prices for food to the detriment of ordinary Cubans.

Overall Fidel’s commentary sounds like the angry ramblings of an old man who is upset that he apparently is being excluded from important events in his country and that Obama reportedly refused to schedule a meeting with him.

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[1] Fidel Castro, Brother Obama, Granma (Mar. 28, 2016); Assoc. Press, Fidel Castro to Obama: We Don’t Need Your ‘Presents,’ N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2016);  Reuters, Cuba’s Fidel Castro Slams Obama Following Historic Visit, N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2016). Obama’s speech and the reactions to the speech were subjects of prior posts.

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama’s Eloquent Speech to the Cuban People

On March 22, U,s, President Barack Obama addressed the past and future of U.S.-Cuba relations in a lengthy and eloquent speech at Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater. The in-person audience of 1,000 included Cuban President Raúl Castro and other officials and U.S. officials and business people. By live television, the audience also included the Cuban people. {1]  Below are photographs of the exterior of the Theater and of President Castro and other Cuban officials in a balcony at the Theater for the speech.

Theater exterior

Castro + @ speech

 

 

 

 

Here we will examine the speech itself, and a subsequent post will look at the reactions to the speech in Cuba and the U.S.

Summary of the Speech

Obama recognized that the two countries shared many things, including being colonized by Europeans and helped by slaves from Africa as well as patriotism and pride, love of family and hope for our children.

The last 50 years, however, have caused many disruptions in our countries’ connections. We are like two brothers who have been estranged for years even as we share the same blood.

The December 17, 2014, joint announcement of our two governments seeking restoration of normal relations was prompted by the U.S. recognition that its policies, including the embargo, were not working and needed to change and that the U.S. needed to help the Cuban people. Obama was in Cuba to end the last remnant of the Cold War and to declare that Cuba need not fear the U.S.

Even though the U.S. was not seeking to force change on Cuba, Obama stated that there were important universal rights that were as important for Cubans as they were for U.S. citizens: equality before the law; right to education, food and housing; freedom from arbitrary arrests; rights to practice their religious faith, assemble, organize, protest peacefully, criticize the government and elect their government leaders. Here is a photograph of President Obama giving the speech.

Obama speech

Text of the Speech

Here then is the actual text of his speech with an opening quotation from a poem by Cuba’s revered national poet, Jose Marti, that offered friendship and peace to both his friend and his enemy, “’Cultivo una rosa blanca’ [I plant a white rose]. Today, as the President of the United States of America, I offer the Cuban people el saludo de paz [the greeting of peace].”

“Havana is only 90 miles from Florida, but to get here we had to travel a great distance — over barriers of history and ideology; barriers of pain and separation.  The blue waters beneath Air Force One once carried American battleships to this island — to liberate, but also to exert control over Cuba.  Those waters also carried generations of Cuban revolutionaries to the United States, where they built support for their cause.  And that short distance has been crossed by hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles — on planes and makeshift rafts — who came to America in pursuit of freedom and opportunity, sometimes leaving behind everything they owned and every person that they loved.”

“Like so many people in both of our countries, my lifetime has spanned a time of isolation between us.  The Cuban Revolution took place the same year that my father came to the United States from Kenya.  The Bay of Pigs took place the year that I was born. The next year, the entire world held its breath, watching our two countries, as humanity came as close as we ever have to the horror of nuclear war.  As the decades rolled by, our governments settled into a seemingly endless confrontation, fighting battles through proxies.  In a world that remade itself time and again, one constant was the conflict between the United States and Cuba.”

“I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.”

“I want to be clear:  The differences between our governments over these many years are real and they are important.  I’m sure President Castro would say the same thing — I know, because I’ve heard him address those differences at length.  But before I discuss those issues, we also need to recognize how much we share.  Because in many ways, the United States and Cuba are like two brothers who’ve been estranged for many years, even as we share the same blood.”

“We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans.  Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa.  Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave-owners.  We’ve welcomed both immigrants who came a great distance to start new lives in the Americas.”

“Over the years, our cultures have blended together. Dr. Carlos Finlay’s work in Cuba paved the way for generations of doctors, including Walter Reed, who drew on Dr. Finlay’s work to help combat Yellow Fever.  Just as Marti wrote some of his most famous words in New York, Ernest Hemingway made a home in Cuba, and found inspiration in the waters of these shores.  We share a national past-time — La Pelota [baseball]– and later today our players will compete on the same Havana field that Jackie Robinson played on before he made his Major League debut. And it’s said that our greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali, once paid tribute to a Cuban that he could never fight — saying that he would only be able to reach a draw with the great Cuban, Teofilo Stevenson.”

“So even as our governments became adversaries, our people continued to share these common passions, particularly as so many Cubans came to America.  In Miami or Havana, you can find places to dance the Cha-Cha-Cha or the Salsa, and eat ropa vieja [shredded pork or beef].  People in both of our countries have sung along with Celia Cruz or Gloria Estefan, and now listen to reggaeton or Pitbull. Millions of our people share a common religion — a faith that I paid tribute to at the Shrine of our Lady of Charity in Miami, a peace that Cubans find in La Cachita.”

“For all of our differences, the Cuban and American people share common values in their own lives.  A sense of patriotism and a sense of pride — a lot of pride.  A profound love of family.  A passion for our children, a commitment to their education.  And that’s why I believe our grandchildren will look back on this period of isolation as an aberration, as just one chapter in a longer story of family and of friendship.”

“But we cannot, and should not, ignore the very real differences that we have — about how we organize our governments, our economies, and our societies.  Cuba has a one-party system; the United States is a multi-party democracy.  Cuba has a socialist economic model; the United States is an open market.  Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state; the United States is founded upon the rights of the individual.”

“Despite these differences, on December 17th 2014, President Castro and I announced that the United States and Cuba would begin a process to normalize relations between our countries. Since then, we have established diplomatic relations and opened embassies.  We’ve begun initiatives to cooperate on health and agriculture, education and law enforcement.  We’ve reached agreements to restore direct flights and mail service.  We’ve expanded commercial ties, and increased the capacity of Americans to travel and do business in Cuba.”

“And these changes have been welcomed, even though there are still opponents to these policies.  But still, many people on both sides of this debate have asked:  Why now?  Why now?”

“There is one simple answer:  What the United States was doing was not working.  We have to have the courage to acknowledge that truth.  A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century.  The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them.  And I’ve always believed in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called ‘the fierce urgency of now’ — we should not fear change, we should embrace it.”

“That leads me to a bigger and more important reason for these changes:  Creo en el pueblo Cubano.  I believe in the Cuban people. This is not just a policy of normalizing relations with the Cuban government.  The United States of America is normalizing relations with the Cuban people.”

“And today, I want to share with you my vision of what our future can be.  I want the Cuban people — especially the young people — to understand why I believe that you should look to the future with hope; not the false promise which insists that things are better than they really are, or the blind optimism that says all your problems can go away tomorrow.  Hope that is rooted in the future that you can choose and that you can shape, and that you can build for your country.”

“I’m hopeful because I believe that the Cuban people are as innovative as any people in the world.”

“In a global economy, powered by ideas and information, a country’s greatest asset is its people.  In the United States, we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build: it’s called Miami.  Here in Havana, we see that same talent in cuentapropistas [self-employed workers], cooperatives and old cars that still run.  El Cubano inventa del aire. [Cubans invented the air.]”

“Cuba has an extraordinary resource — a system of education which values every boy and every girl. And in recent years, the Cuban government has begun to open up to the world, and to open up more space for that talent to thrive.  In just a few years, we’ve seen how cuentapropistas  can succeed while sustaining a distinctly Cuban spirit.  Being self-employed is not about becoming more like America, it’s about being yourself.”

“Look at Sandra Lidice Aldama, who chose to start a small business.  Cubans, she said, can ‘innovate and adapt without losing our identity…our secret is in not copying or imitating but simply being ourselves.’”

“Look at Papito Valladeres, a barber, whose success allowed him to improve conditions in his neighborhood.  ‘I realize I’m not going to solve all of the world’s problems,’ he said.  ‘But if I can solve problems in the little piece of the world where I live, it can ripple across Havana.’”

“That’s where hope begins — with the ability to earn your own living, and to build something you can be proud of.  That’s why our policies focus on supporting Cubans, instead of hurting them.  That’s why we got rid of limits on remittances — so ordinary Cubans have more resources.  That’s why we’re encouraging travel — which will build bridges between our people, and bring more revenue to those Cuban small businesses. That’s why we’ve opened up space for commerce and exchanges — so that Americans and Cubans can work together to find cures for diseases, and create jobs, and open the door to more opportunity for the Cuban people.”

“As President of the United States, I’ve called on our Congress to lift the embargo. It is an outdated burden on the Cuban people.  It’s a burden on the Americans who want to work and do business or invest here in Cuba.  It’s time to lift the embargo.  But even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba. It should be easier to open a business here in Cuba.  A worker should be able to get a job directly with companies who invest here in Cuba.  Two currencies shouldn’t separate the type of salaries that Cubans can earn.  The Internet should be available across the island, so that Cubans can connect to the wider world and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.”

“There’s no limitation from the United States on the ability of Cuba to take these steps.  It’s up to you.  And I can tell you as a friend that sustainable prosperity in the 21st century depends upon education, health care, and environmental protection.  But it also depends on the free and open exchange of ideas.  If you can’t access information online, if you cannot be exposed to different points of view, you will not reach your full potential.  And over time, the youth will lose hope.”

“I know these issues are sensitive, especially coming from an American President.  Before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit, ignored poverty, enabled corruption. And since 1959, we’ve been shadow-boxers in this battle of geopolitics and personalities. I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it.”

“I’ve made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity, nor the intention to impose change on Cuba.  What changes come will depend upon the Cuban people.  We will not impose our political or economic system on you.  We recognize that every country, every people, must chart its own course and shape its own model.  But having removed the shadow of history from our relationship, I must speak honestly about the things that I believe — the things that we, as Americans, believe.  As Marti said, ‘Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.’”

“So let me tell you what I believe.  I can’t force you to agree, but you should know what I think.  I believe that every person should be equal under the law. Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads. I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights. I believe that every person should have the freedom to practice their faith peacefully and publicly. And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections.”

“Not everybody agrees with me on this.  Not everybody agrees with the American people on this.  But I believe those human rights are universal. I believe they are the rights of the American people, the Cuban people, and people around the world.”

“Now, there’s no secret that our governments disagree on many of these issues.  I’ve had frank conversations with President Castro.  For many years, he has pointed out the flaws in the American system — economic inequality; the death penalty; racial discrimination; wars abroad.  That’s just a sample.  He has a much longer list. But here’s what the Cuban people need to understand:  I welcome this open debate and dialogue. It’s good.  It’s healthy.  I’m not afraid of it.”

“We do have too much money in American politics.  But, in America, it’s still possible for somebody like me — a child who was raised by a single mom, a child of mixed race who did not have a lot of money — to pursue and achieve the highest office in the land.  That’s what’s possible in America.”

“We do have challenges with racial bias — in our communities, in our criminal justice system, in our society — the legacy of slavery and segregation.  But the fact that we have open debates within America’s own democracy is what allows us to get better.  In 1959, the year that my father moved to America, it was illegal for him to marry my mother, who was white, in many American states.  When I first started school, we were still struggling to desegregate schools across the American South.  But people organized; they protested; they debated these issues; they challenged government officials.  And because of those protests, and because of those debates, and because of popular mobilization, I’m able to stand here today as an African-American and as President of the United States.  That was because of the freedoms that were afforded in the United States that we were able to bring about change.”

“I’m not saying this is easy. There’s still enormous problems in our society.  But democracy is the way that we solve them.  That’s how we got health care for more of our people.  That’s how we made enormous gains in women’s rights and gay rights.  That’s how we address the inequality that concentrates so much wealth at the top of our society.  Because workers can organize and ordinary people have a voice, American democracy has given our people the opportunity to pursue their dreams and enjoy a high standard of living.”

“Now, there are still some tough fights.  It isn’t always pretty, the process of democracy.   It’s often frustrating.  You can see that in the election going on back home.  But just stop and consider this fact about the American campaign that’s taking place right now.  You had two Cuban Americans in the Republican Party, running against the legacy of a black man who is President, while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the Democratic nominee who will either be a woman or a Democratic Socialist. Who would have believed that back in 1959?  That’s a measure of our progress as a democracy.”

“So here’s my message to the Cuban government and the Cuban people:  The ideals that are the starting point for every revolution — America’s revolution, Cuba’s revolution, the liberation movements around the world — those ideals find their truest expression, I believe, in democracy.  Not because American democracy is perfect, but precisely because we’re not.  And we — like every country — need the space that democracy gives us to change.  It gives individuals the capacity to be catalysts to think in new ways, and to reimagine how our society should be, and to make them better.”

“There’s already an evolution taking place inside of Cuba, a generational change.  Many suggested that I come here and ask the people of Cuba to tear something down — but I’m appealing to the young people of Cuba who will lift something up, build something new.  El futuro  de Cuba tiene que estar en las manos del pueblo Cubano. [The future of Cuba must be in the hands of the Cuban people.]”

English “And to President Castro — who I appreciate being here today — I want you to know, I believe my visit here demonstrates you do not need to fear a threat from the United States.  And given your commitment to Cuba’s sovereignty and self-determination, I am also confident that you need not fear the different voices of the Cuban people — and their capacity to speak, and assemble, and vote for their leaders.  In fact, I’m hopeful for the future because I trust that the Cuban people will make the right decisions.”

“And as you do, I’m also confident that Cuba can continue to play an important role in the hemisphere and around the globe — and my hope is, is that you can do so as a partner with the United States.”

“We’ve played very different roles in the world.  But no one should deny the service that thousands of Cuban doctors have delivered for the poor and suffering. Last year, American health care workers — and the U.S. military — worked side-by-side with Cubans to save lives and stamp out Ebola in West Africa.  I believe that we should continue that kind of cooperation in other countries.”

“We’ve been on the different side of so many conflicts in the Americas.  But today, Americans and Cubans are sitting together at the negotiating table, and we are helping the Colombian people resolve a civil war that’s dragged on for decades. That kind of cooperation is good for everybody.  It gives everyone in this hemisphere hope.”

“We took different journeys to our support for the people of South Africa in ending apartheid.  But President Castro and I could both be there in Johannesburg to pay tribute to the legacy of the great Nelson Mandela. And in examining his life and his words, I’m sure we both realize we have more work to do to promote equality in our own countries — to reduce discrimination based on race in our own countries.  And in Cuba, we want our engagement to help lift up the Cubans who are of African descent, who’ve proven that there’s nothing they cannot achieve when given the chance.”

“We’ve been a part of different blocs of nations in the hemisphere, and we will continue to have profound differences about how to promote peace, security, opportunity, and human rights.  But as we normalize our relations, I believe it can help foster a greater sense of unity in the Americas — todos somos Americanos [we are all Americans].”

“From the beginning of my time in office, I’ve urged the people of the Americas to leave behind the ideological battles of the past.  We are in a new era.  I know that many of the issues that I’ve talked about lack the drama of the past.  And I know that part of Cuba’s identity is its pride in being a small island nation that could stand up for its rights, and shake the world. But I also know that Cuba will always stand out because of the talent, hard work, and pride of the Cuban people.  That’s your strength. Cuba doesn’t have to be defined by being against the United States, any more than the United States should be defined by being against Cuba.  I’m hopeful for the future because of the reconciliation that’s taking place among the Cuban people.”

“I know that for some Cubans on the island, there may be a sense that those who left somehow supported the old order in Cuba.  I’m sure there’s a narrative that lingers here which suggests that Cuban exiles ignored the problems of pre-Revolutionary Cuba, and rejected the struggle to build a new future.  But I can tell you today that so many Cuban exiles carry a memory of painful — and sometimes violent — separation.  They love Cuba.  A part of them still considers this their true home. That’s why their passion is so strong.  That’s why their heartache is so great.  And for the Cuban-American community that I’ve come to know and respect, this is not just about politics. This is about family — the memory of a home that was lost; the desire to rebuild a broken bond; the hope for a better future the hope for return and reconciliation.”

“For all of the politics, people are people, and Cubans are Cubans.  And I’ve come here — I’ve traveled this distance — on a bridge that was built by Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.  I first got to know the talent and passion of the Cuban people in America.  And I know how they have suffered more than the pain of exile — they also know what it’s like to be an outsider, and to struggle, and to work harder to make sure their children can reach higher in America.”

“So the reconciliation of the Cuban people — the children and grandchildren of revolution, and the children and grandchildren of exile — that is fundamental to Cuba’s future.”

“You see it in Gloria Gonzalez, who traveled here in 2013 for the first time after 61 years of separation, and was met by her sister, Llorca.  ‘You recognized me, but I didn’t recognize you,’ Gloria said after she embraced her sibling.  Imagine that, after 61 years.”

“You see it in Melinda Lopez, who came to her family’s old home.  And as she was walking the streets, an elderly woman recognized her as her mother’s daughter, and began to cry.  She took her into her home and showed her a pile of photos that included Melinda’s baby picture, which her mother had sent 50 years ago.  Melinda later said, ‘So many of us are now getting so much back.’”

“You see it in Cristian Miguel Soler, a young man who became the first of his family to travel here after 50 years.  And meeting relatives for the first time, he said, ‘I realized that family is family no matter the distance between us.’”

“Sometimes the most important changes start in small places. The tides of history can leave people in conflict and exile and poverty.  It takes time for those circumstances to change.  But the recognition of a common humanity, the reconciliation of people bound by blood and a belief in one another — that’s where progress begins.  Understanding, and listening, and forgiveness. And if the Cuban people face the future together, it will be more likely that the young people of today will be able to live with dignity and achieve their dreams right here in Cuba.”

“The history of the United States and Cuba encompass revolution and conflict; struggle and sacrifice; retribution and, now, reconciliation.  It is time, now, for us to leave the past behind.  It is time for us to look forward to the future together — un future de esperanza [a future of hope].  And it won’t be easy, and there will be setbacks.  It will take time.  But my time here in Cuba renews my hope and my confidence in what the Cuban people will do.  We can make this journey as friends, and as neighbors, and as family — together.  Si se puede.  Muchas gracias. [Yes we can. Many thanks.]”

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[1] White House, Remarks by President Obama to the People of Cuba (March 22, 2016); Agence France-Press, President’s Full Speech in Cuba, N.Y. times (Mar. 22, 2016) (complete video of speech); Davis, Obama in Havana Speech, Says Cuba Has Nothing To Fear from U.S., N.Y. Times (Mar. 22, 2016); Reuters, Obama Challenges Communist-Led Cuba With Call for Democracy, N.Y. Times (Mar. 22, 2016); Assoc. Press, In Cuba, Obama Calls for Burying ‘Last Remnant of Cold War,’ N.Y. Times (Mar. 22, 2016); Eliperin & DeYoung, Obama addresses the Cuban nation: “It is time now for us to leave the past behind,’ Wash. Post (Mar. 22, 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Issues of Cuban Human Rights To Be Discussed by Cuba and United States (Part I)

On March 26 Cuba announced that the U.S. and Cuba will commence their negotiations regarding human rights on March 31 in Washington, D.C.; this was covered in a prior post.

Now we examine issues of Cuban human rights that probably will be put on the agenda for further discussions by looking at the recent speech on this subject by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. [1] Subsequent posts will look at the U.N. Human Rights Council’s most recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cuba and at the latest U.S. State Department report on Cuban human rights (the one issued in 2014 for 2013). Observations about these sources will be made in a later post while other subsequent posts will engage in a similar analysis about issues of U.S. human rights that are likely to be covered in the bilateral talks.

Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla
Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla

As discussed in a prior post, the U.N. Human Rights Council opened what it called its “High -Level Segment” on March 2, 2015, at its headquarters in Geneva Switzerland. One of the speakers that day was the Cuban Foreign Minister, whose speech will be excerpted below.

Cuba’s Commitment to International Human Rights. The Foreign Minister stressed Cuba’s “commitment to a genuine international cooperation based on the indivisibility of human rights, non-selectivity and non-politicization” and to “the struggle for the establishment of a more just, democratic and equitable international order that would remove the obstacles that hamper all national efforts that are made to guarantee the exercise of all human rights.”

Cuba, he asserted, maintains “a high level of cooperation and interaction with the procedures and mechanisms of the [U.N.] when it comes to universal human rights and a positive dialogue with the organs created by virtue of international treaties. It is in that spirit that we are conveying an invitation to the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the [U.N.] Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons” to visit Cuba.

“Despite its deficiencies and difficulties, Cuba has shared and will continue to share its achievements and experience with other nations, with which we have made a selfless contribution to the exercise of human rights by other peoples of the world.”

For example, under Cuba’s “cooperation project known as ‘Miracle Operation,’ 3.4 million persons from 34 countries have undergone eye surgery free of charge.  Likewise, 9 million persons have already graduated from the literacy program ‘Yes, I Can,’ and 1,113,000 persons have graduated from the follow-up program ‘Yes, I Can Continue.’”

“Today, more than 51 000 Cuban health cooperation workers are offering their services in 67 countries of the world.” Cuba “will continue offering our cooperation in the struggle against the Ebola virus in Africa. More than 250 voluntary and specialized health cooperation workers of the medical brigade ‘Henry Reeve’ are taking part in this struggle in the most affected regions.  Another 4,000 Cuban health cooperation workers are participating in the prevention program that is being implemented in 32 African countries.”

“On the occasion of the Seventieth Anniversary of the [U.N.], the Principles and Purposes that were enshrined in [its] Charter and supported its creation are more valid than ever.  As was recently stated by Cuba’s President Raúl Castro Ruz: “We will never renounce our ideals of independence and social justice, or abandon a single one of our principles, nor cede a millimeter in the defense of our national sovereignty.  We will not accept any pressure regarding our internal affairs. We have earned this sovereign right through great sacrifices and at the price of great risks.”

People’s Participation in Government.The Foreign Minister emphasized that “more than 2,000 organizations and associations of an infinite diversity contribute very actively to the economic, social and cultural life [of Cuba]. . . . The participation of the people in the Governments’ decision-making processes, . . . has been the experience of the Cuban Revolution.”

This was illustrated in 2011 by the Cuban government’s consultations with the people over the proposed economic and social program that included “the introduction of 400,000 amendments thereto and the modification of two-thirds of the original text.  More recently a new Labor Code was discussed following this same procedures.”

Workers’ Rights. In Cuba “almost all workers – including those who work in small private businesses–are unionized and protected by collective agreements.  There are union representatives in the Council of Ministers as well as in the ministerial and corporate organs. In 1938 [long before the Cuban Revolution], the workers’ movement in Cuba managed to found a Unitarian Workers’ Central, which today encompasses as many as 17 different unions and thousands of other grassroots organizations.”

The Foreign Minister also raised the subjects of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 87 [2] and Convention 98 [3], both of which have been ratified by Cuba.

Palestine. Cuba supports “the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to a State of their own, on the pre-1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.  The [U.N.] General Assembly should act with resolve and guarantee, without further delay, the full [U.N.] membership of Palestine.”

Venezuela. “We ratify our firmest support to the Bolivarian Revolution and the legitimate Government headed by President Nicolás Maduro Moros.” (Several posts have investigated the reactions of Venezuela, Cuba and other countries to a U.S. executive order imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelans.)

Cuba’s Negotiations with the EU and the U.S. Cuba’s current negotiations with the U.S. and the EU over human rights and other issues were noted. Rodriguez said those discussions will occur within the agreed reciprocal basis of “sovereign equality, mutual respect, non-interference in internal affairs [and] respect for the legal systems of the parties.”

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[1] This portion of the post is based upon the following: Vigezzi, Statement by Bruno Rodriguez at Human Rights Council in Geneva, Nat’l Network on Cuba (Mar. 2, 2015); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Human Rights Council hears from 11 dignitaries as it continues its High-Level Segment, (Mar. 2, 2015); Cuban Foreign Minister speaks at the Human Rights Council, Granma (Mar. 4, 2015). The Cuban Foreign Minister’s speech also criticized certain aspects of the human rights records of the U.S. and other unnamed industrialized countries; these comments will be examined in a later post about issues of U.S. human rights that might be added to the agenda for discussions between the two countries.

[2] ILO Convention No. 87 (Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise [sic], 1948) has been ratified by 153 states, including Cuba and all 28 EU members. The U.S. has not so ratified and thus is not a party to this treaty although there are many federal and state laws on the subject.

[3] ILO Convention No. 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949) has been ratified by 164 states, including Cuba and all 28 EU members. The U.S. has not so ratified and thus is not a party to this treaty although there are many federal and state laws on the subject.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 Cuban Policy and Program of Sending Medical Personnel Abroad

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

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

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

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

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

Facts Regarding CMPPP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Times’ Reasons for Ending CMPPP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wall Street Journal’s Reasons for Supporting CMPPP

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Times Criticizes USAID’s Efforts To Promote Regime Change in Cuba

On November 10, 2014, the New York Times published its latest editorial in its series “Cuba: A New Start.”[1] Under the title, “In Cuba, Misadventures in Regime Change,” this editorial focuses on criticizing the efforts by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to promote regime change in Cuba and recommending “stronger [U.S.] diplomatic relations” with Cuba as a more productive way to try “to positively influence Cuba’s evolution toward a more open society.”

The editorial also recommends that the U.S. “should find ways to empower ordinary Cubans by expanding study-abroad programs, professional exchanges and investment in the new small businesses cropping up around the island. [The U.S.] should continue to promote Internet connectivity, but realize that accomplishing that goal on a large scale will require coordination with the Cuban government.”

The editorial’s foundation is the following set of documented factual assertions:

  • In 1996, the U.S. enacted the Helms-Burton Act that spelled out “a strategy to overthrow the government in Havana and ‘assist the Cuban people in regaining their freedom.’”This statute “has served as the foundation for the $264 million the United States has spent in the last 18 years trying to instigate democratic reforms on the island.”
  • “During the final years of the Clinton administration, the [U.S.] spent relatively little on programs in Cuba under . . . [this statute].”
  • That changed when George W. Bush came to power in 2001 with an ambitious aim to bring freedom to oppressed people around the world.” USAID, “better known for its humanitarian work than cloak-and-dagger missions, became the primary vehicle for pro-democracy work in Cuba, where it is illegal.”
  • “In the early years of the [George W.] Bush administration, spending on initiatives to oust the [Cuban]government surged from a few million a year to more than $20 million in 2004. Most contracts were awarded, without much oversight, to newly formed Cuban-American groups. One used funds on a legally questionable global lobbying effort to persuade foreign governments to support America’s unpopular embargo. Other grantees sent loads of comic books to the American diplomatic mission in Havana, bewildering officials there. The money was also used to buy food and clothes, but there was no way to track how much reached relatives of political prisoners, the intended recipients.”
  • “According to a November 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office, one contractor used the pro-democracy money to buy ‘a gas chain saw, computer gaming equipment and software (including Nintendo Game Boys and Sony PlayStations), a mountain bike, leather coats, cashmere sweaters, crab meat and Godiva chocolates,’ purchases . . . [the contractor] was unable to justify to auditors.”
  • “The G.A.O. probe led . . . [USAID] to start awarding more funds to established development organizations, including some that pitched bold initiatives. In 2008, Congress appropriated $45 million for the programs, a record amount.”
  • In December 2009 Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen, went on his fifth trip to the island posing as a tourist but acting on behalf of an USAID contractor to smuggle communications equipment to Jewish groups in Cuba. Gross was arrested, charged and convicted by a Cuban court for violating Cuban law and sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment.[2]
  • “At the time [of Gross’ arrest], many senior State Department officials were not fully aware of the scope and nature of the covert programs, . . . and some argued that the covert programs were counterproductive and should be stopped. But Cuban-American lawmakers fought vigorously to keep them alive.”
  • “After Mr. Gross’s arrest, [USAID] . . . stopped sending American [citizens] into Cuba, but it allowed its contractors to recruit Latin Americans for secret missions that were sometimes detected by the Cuban intelligence services.”
  • “An investigation by The Associated Press published in April [2014] revealed . . . [that between] 2009 and 2012, Creative Associates International, a Washington firm, built a rudimentary text messaging system similar to Twitter, known as ZunZuneo, Cuban slang for a hummingbird’s tweet. It was supposed to provide Cubans with a platform to share messages with a mass audience, and ultimately be used to assemble ‘smart mobs.’” Although the contractor paid “text-messaging fees to the Cuban telecommunications company, [the contractor] never found a way to make the platform self-sustaining.”[3]
  • A second A.P. report revealed in August [2014] that U.S.A.I.D. had been sending young Latin Americans to Cuba to identify ‘potential social change actors,’ under the pretext of organizing gatherings like an H.I.V. prevention workshop. The contractors, also hired by Creative Associates, received quick pointers on how to evade Cuban intelligence and were paid as little as $5.41 an hour for work that could have easily landed them in prison.”[4]
  • Although the “American money has provided food and comfort to some relatives of political prisoners, and been used to build limited access to satellite-based Internet connections, . . . it has done more to stigmatize than to help dissidents.”
  • “Far from accomplishing . . . the goal [of instigating democratic reforms on the island], the initiatives have been largely counterproductive. The funds have been a magnet for charlatans, swindlers and good intentions gone awry. The stealthy programs have increased hostility between the two nations, provided Cuba with a trove of propaganda fodder and stymied opportunities to cooperate in areas of mutual interest.”

As previous posts to this blog have discussed, I concur in this editorial’s criticisms of the USAID covert efforts to promote regime change in Cuba and the editorial’s recommendations for changes in U.S. policies regarding the island nation.

I take exception, however, to the editorial’s unexamined assertion that Cuba has “one of the most repressive governments in the world.” Although I am confident that Cuba ideally should have a more open society and hope that it continues to move in that direction, all of us in the U.S. should try to put ourselves in the shoes of the Cubans.

For decades the immensely more powerful U.S. has openly engaged in hostile policies and actions against the small, poor and militarily weak island. This includes the U.S.-supported and unsuccessful 1961 “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba; the threatened U.S. bombing and invasion of Cuba in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis; the recently revealed 1976 military plans to “clobber” Cuba that were being prepared by U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; the half-century U.S. embargo of Cuba; and the very USAID covert efforts to promote regime change in Cuba that are discussed in this editorial. If we in the U.S. were in this situation, we too would, I am confident, impose restrictions on an open society. Have we not done this very thing in our response to the 9/11 attacks and the threats of international terrorism?

As I said in an earlier post about U.S. policies regarding Cuba, all of us should remember that when the scribes and Pharisees confronted Jesus with a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery and asked Jesus what he had to say when the law of Moses said stone her, Jesus responded, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:3-7)

Likewise, the President and all of us should also remember these other words of Jesus (Matthew 7:1-5):

  • “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

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[1] Prior posts have discussed the recent Times’ editorials urging U.S.-Cuba reconciliation, commending Cuba’s efforts to combat Ebola in West Africa, recognizing changes in U.S. public opinion about Cuba and recommending an U.S.-Cuba prisoner exchange.

[2] An earlier Times editorial urged the U.S. and Cuba negotiate an exchange of Mr. Gross for three Cubans in U.S. prisons.

[3] Prior posts to this blog on April 4,  9 and 9, 2014, discussed the AP investigation of the USAID social media program.

[4] Prior posts (August 12, 13 and 14, 2014) examined the AP investigation of the USAID “use” of Latin Americans to open HIV-AIDS clinics in Cuba.

U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns U.S. Embargo of Cuba

U.N. General Assembly Voting Results Screen
U.N. General Assembly   Voting Results Screen

On October 28, 2014, the U.N. General Assembly by a vote of 188 to 2 again condemned the U.S. embargo of Cuba. The two negative votes were cast by the U.S. and by Israel while three small Pacific nations abstained–Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. All the other U.N. members supported the resolution. [1]

 The Resolution

The resolution [A/69/L.4] reiterated the General Assembly’s “call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the preamble to the present resolution [‘the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the [U.S.] against Cuba’ and the Helms-Burton Act], in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation.”

The resolution also “again urges States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures [i.e., the U.S.] to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

Cuba’s Statement Supporting the Resolution

Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla
Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla

Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, the Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs, introducing the resolution, said that in recent times “the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the [U.S.] against Cuba had been tightened, and its extraterritorial implementation had also been strengthened through the imposition of unprecedented fines, totaling $11 billion against 38 banks . . . for carrying out transactions with Cuba and other countries.” In addition, Cuba’s “accumulated economic damages of the blockade totaled $1.1 trillion . . . [and] human damages were on the rise.”

Nevertheless, “Cuba had offered every possible form of assistance to the [U.S.] in the wake of disasters there, such as in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Cuba had never been a threat to the national security of the [U.S.].  Opinion polls showed that there was increasing support from all sectors of [U.S.] society for lifting the blockade.  Religious leaders had citied legitimate, indisputable ethical and humanitarian reasons.“

In addition, ”the blockade was harmful to . . . the [U.S.]. The ‘absurd and ridiculous’ inclusion of Cuba on the [U.S.] list of States that sponsored international terrorism redounded to the discredit of the [U.S.].  Cuba would never renounce its sovereignty or the path chosen by its people to build a more just, efficient, prosperous and sustainable socialism.”  Neither, he continued, would his Government “give up its quest for a different international order, nor cease in its struggle for ‘the equilibrium of the world.’”

Rodríguez also invited the U.S. government “to establish a mutually respectful relation, based on reciprocity. We can live and deal with each other in a civilized way, despite our differences.”

Other Countries’ Statements Supporting the Resolution [2]

The following Latin American countries voiced support for the resolution: Argentina (MERCOSUR [3]) (embargo was “morally unjustifiable” and violated “the spirit of multilateralism and was immoral, unjust and illegal”); Barbados (CARICOM [4]); Bolivia (Group of 77 [5] and China); Brazil (Group of 77 and CELAC [6]); Colombia; Costa Rica (CELAC)); Ecuador; El Salvador (Group of 77 and CARICOM); Mexico; Nicaragua; St. Vincent and the Grenadines (CARICOM, Non-Aligned Movement, [7] Group of 77 and CELAC); Uruguay; and Venezuela.

The African supporters of the resolution that spoke were Algeria (Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77, Group of African States [8] and Organization of Islamic Cooperation [9]); Angola; Kenya (Group of 77, Non-Aligned Movement and African Group); Malawi (African Group); South Africa (Group of 77, Non-Aligned Movement and African Group); Sudan (Group of 77, Non-Aligned Movement and Organization of Islamic Cooperation); United Republic of Tanzania; Zambia (Non-Aligned Movement) and Zimbabwe (Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77 and African Group).

From Asia and the Pacific were Belarus; China (Group of 77); Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea); Indonesia (Group of 77);  India (Group of 77 and Non-Aligned Movement); Iran (Non-Aligned Movement); Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Myanmar (Group of 77 and Non-Aligned Movement); Russian Federation; Solomon Islands; and Viet Nam (Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77 and China).

Middle Eastern countries speaking in favor of the resolution were Egypt, Saudi Arabia (Organization of Islamic Cooperation); and Syria (Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77 and China).

The sole European supporter of the resolution that spoke at the session was Italy (European Union [10]), which said the U.S.’ “extraterritorial legislation and unilateral administrative and judicial measures were negatively affecting European Union interests”).

U.S. Statement Opposing the Resolution

Although Israel voted against the resolution, it chose not to speak in support of its vote. Only the U.S. by Ambassador Ronald D. Godard, U.S. Senior Advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs, tried to justify the negative vote.

Ronald D. Godard
Ronald D. Godard

Ambassador Godard said the U.S. “conducts its economic relationships with other countries in accordance with its national interests and its principles. Our sanctions toward Cuba are part of our overall effort to help the Cuban people freely exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, and determine their own future, consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the democratic principles to which the United Nations itself is committed.”

Ambassador Godard also said, “the Cuban government uses this annual resolution in an attempt to shift blame for the island’s economic problems away from its own policy failures. The Cuban government now publicly recognizes that its economic woes are caused by the economic policies it has pursued for the last, past half-century. We note and welcome recent changes that reflect this acknowledgement, such as those that allow greater self-employment and liberalization of the real estate market. But the Cuban economy will not thrive until the Cuban government permits a free and fair labor market, fully empowers Cuban independent entrepreneurs, respects intellectual property rights, allows unfettered access to information via the Internet, opens its state monopolies to private competition and adopts the sound macro-economic policies that have contributed to the success of Cuba’s neighbors in Latin America.”

According to Ambassador Godard, the U.S. “remains a deep and abiding friend of the Cuban people. The Cuban people continue to receive as much as $2 billion per year in remittances and other private contributions from the [U.S.]. This support . . . was made possible . . . by U.S. policy choices. By the Cuban government’s own account, the [U.S.] is one of Cuba’s principal trading partners. In 2013, the [U.S.] exported approximately $359 million in agricultural products, medical devices, medicine and humanitarian items to Cuba. Far from restricting aid to the Cuban people, we are proud that the people of the [U.S.] and its companies are among the leading providers of humanitarian assistance to Cuba. All of this trade and assistance is conducted in conformity with our sanctions program, which is carefully calibrated to allow and encourage the provision of support to the Cuban people.”

Furthermore, the U.S. “places the highest priority on building and strengthening connections between the Cuban people and [our] people. U.S. travel, remittance, information exchange, humanitarian and people-to-people policies updated in 2009 and 2011 provide the Cuban people alternative sources of information, help them take advantage of limited opportunities for self-employment and private property and strengthen independent civil society. The hundreds of thousands of Americans who have sent remittances and traveled to the island, under categories of purposeful travel promoted by President Obama, remain the best ambassadors for our democratic ideals.”

Ambassador Godard continued, “[The U.S.] strongly supports the Cuban people’s desire to determine their own future, through the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. The right to receive and impart information and ideas through any media is set forth in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the Cuban government’s policies that continue to prevent enjoyment of this right. The Cuban government now claims to share our goal of helping the Cuban people access the Internet. Yet the Cuban government has failed to offer widespread access to the Internet through its high-speed cable with Venezuela.  Instead, it continues to impose barriers to information for the Cuban people while disingenuously blaming U.S. policy.”

“Moreover, the Cuban government continues to detain Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for facilitating Internet access for Cuba’s small Jewish community. [[11]] The [U.S.] calls on Cuba to release Mr. Gross immediately, [[12]] allow unrestricted access to the Internet, and tear down the digital wall of censorship it has erected around the Cuban people.

 {T]his resolution only serves to distract from the real problems facing the Cuban people. . . . Though Cuba’s contributions to the fight against Ebola are laudable, they do not excuse or diminish the regime’s treatment of its own people. We encourage this world body to support the desires of the Cuban people to choose their own future. By doing so, it would truly advance the principles the United Nations Charter was founded upon, and the purposes for which the United Nations was created.”

Media Coverage of the Resolution and Debate

 U.S. media coverage of this important U.N. vote was almost non-existent. It was not mentioned in the “World” or “Americas” news sections of the New York Times, and only its “Opinion” section had a short article about the issue. It got no mention whatsoever in the Wall Street Journal. Not even the Miami Herald, which has a separate page for Cuba news, mentioned it. [13]

At 2:37 p.m. on October 28th the Associated Press published a release on the subject, and the Washington Post published it online while the StarTribune of Minneapolis/St. Paul picked it up the next day in its online, but not its print, edition.

Cuba’s state-owned newspaper, Granma, of course, headlined this vote while stating that the embargo has caused $1.1 trillion of damage to the Cuban economy and “incalculable human suffering.” Its article also emphasized that this was the 23rd consecutive such resolution with a table showing that the number of votes in favor of the resolutions has increased from 59 in 1992 to 188 in 2012-2014, that the largest number of votes against the resolutions was only 4 in 1993 and 2004-2007 and that the number of abstentions has decreased from 71 in 1992 to 1 in 2005-2007 and now 3 since 2010.

Conclusion

This overwhelming international opposition to the U.S. embargo in and of itself should be enough to cause the U.S. to end the embargo. Moreover, the embargo has not forced Cuba to come begging to the U.S. for anything that the U.S. wants. The U.S. policy is a failure. The New York Times recently called for abandonment of this policy as has this blog in urging reconciliation of the two countries, in an open letter to President Obama and in a rebuttal of the President’s asserted rationale for the embargo and other anti-Cuban policies.

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[1] This post is based upon the sources embedded above and upon U.N. General Assembly Press Release [GA/11574], As General Assembly Demands End to Cuba Blockade for Twenty-Thjrd Consecutive Year, Country’s Foreign Minister Cites Losses Exceeding $1 Trillion (Oct. 28, 2014); Londoño, On Cuban Embargo, It’s the U.S. and Israel Against the World, Again, N.Y. Times (Oct. 29, 2014); Associated Press, UN General Assembly Condemns US Cuba Embargo (Oct. 28, 2014); U.S. Dep’t of State, Explanation of Vote by Ambassador Ronald D. Godard on the Cuba Resolution in the General Assembly Hall (Oct. 28, 2014). The General Assembly also has videos of the debate (A and B). A prior post reviewed the 2011 General Assembly’s adoption of a similar resolution against the embargo.

[2] Many of the cited statements supporting the resolution were issued on behalf of, or aligned with, larger groups of nations as noted above. In addition, prior to the October 28th session of the General Assembly, the U.N. Secretary General submitted a report containing statements against the embargo from 154 states and 27 U.N. agencies.

[3] MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market) is a customs union and trading bloc of five South American countries with five other associate members in the continent.

[4] CARICOM (Caribbean Community) is a group of 15 Caribbean countries with five associate members for economic cooperation.

[5] The Group of 77 was established in 1964 by 77 developing countries to promote their collective economic interests and South-South cooperation; now there are 134 members that have retained the original name for historical significance.

[6] CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) is a group of 33 states in the region to deepen economic integration and combat the influence of the U.S.

[7] The Non-Aligned Movement is a group of 115 developing countries that are not aligned with or against any major power bloc. Its current focus is advocacy of solutions to global economic and other problems

[8] The African Group is a group of 54 African states that are U.N. Members.

[9] The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is a group of 57 states that seek to protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting peace and harmony in the world.

[10] The European Union is a group of 28 European states that have combined for a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe.

[11] The activities in Cuba by Mr. Gross are not so simple. A Cuban court in 2011 found him guilty of participating in a “subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the revolution through the use of communications systems out of the control of authorities,” and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. According to his own lawsuit against the U.S. Government, and subsequent disclosures, Gross alleged the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its contractor, DAI, sent him on five semi-covert trips to Cuba without proper training, protection or even a clear sense of the Cuban laws that led to his detainment. The case highlighted the frequent haste and lack of attention to the risks of the USAID programs in Cuba under the Helms-Burton Act, which allowed for money to be set aside for “democracy building efforts” that might hasten the fall of Fidel and Raúl Castro.

[12] In discussions with the U.S., Cuba already has expressed a willingness to exchange Mr. Gross for one or more of the three of “the Cuban Five” who remain in U.S. prisons.

[13] Nor did I find any mention of the vote in London’s Guardian or Madrid’s El Pais.

 

New York Times Again Urges Normalization of U.S.-Cuba Relations

In its third editorial within the last two weeks, the New York Times on October 26th again called for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. This time the focus was what it perceived as shifting U.S. opinions on the subject. [1]

The starting point for the latest Times’ call for normalization was its assertion that “younger members of the [Cuban] diaspora have staked out views that are increasingly in favor of deepening engagement with the island.” In addition, “Several prominent Cuban-American businessmen who were once strong supporters of the embargo have changed their stance and become proponents of engagement. The pro-embargo lobby raises a fraction of the money it once did.”

“That evolution [in public opinion of Cuban-Americans] has allowed a growing number of seasoned politicians to call the embargo a failure and argue that ending America’s enmity with Cuba represents the best chance of encouraging positive change on the island.”

“Charlie Crist, the former governor of Florida who is in a tight race for his old job, recently said he was interested in traveling to Cuba, an idea he later scrapped, blaming a busy schedule. Mr. Crist, however, has emphatically said he has come to see the embargo as a relic that must be shelved. Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote in her memoirs, and repeated in a recent interview, that she now favors repealing the embargo, which she called a failure, because it has ‘propped up the Castros.’”

“In Florida, members of Congress have staked out positions on Cuba that once would have been considered political suicide. Representative Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, traveled to the island last year and made a strong appeal for an end to the sanctions, saying the United States was failing to capitalize on economic reforms underway on the island. She feels that far from hurting her politically, the stance has made her more popular among constituents, including Cuban-Americans, who want to play a role in the island’s future.”

“Even in Miami, where old-guard positions remain popular among older exiles, who are largely Republicans, there have been notable changes. In 2012, Joe Garcia became the first Cuban-American Democrat from Miami to be elected to the House. While he publicly supports the embargo, Mr. Garcia holds views significantly different from other South Florida members of Congress. For instance, he has called for clinical trials in the United States of a Cuban diabetes treatment that shows great promise. He also favors easing travel restrictions to the island.”

Another measure of this changing public opinion is “President Obama now [receiving] . . .more correspondence from lawmakers who favor expanded ties than from those who want to keep robust sanctions.”

As a result, “White House officials are deliberating over how much progress they might be able to make on President Obama’s longstanding interest in expanding ties with Cuba,” including his support for “repealing the embargo when he was running for the . . .[U.S.] Senate in 2004.”

The major political barrier to progress on the issues that require congressional action, like ending the embargo, is “a small but passionate group of Cuban-American lawmakers [who are] adamant about maintaining the status quo. The most vocal defenders of the embargo are Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey; Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida; and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, both Miami Republicans.

The most important of these opponents to changing U.S. policies regarding Cuba is Senator Menendez, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who could use that position to block Administration measures on other issues, including “confirmation of federal nominees in retaliation for further moves to ease the embargo.”

Menendez’ rhetoric about what he says are the evil ways of Cuba is intense. This April he “delivered a long, impassioned speech on the Senate floor, arguing that despite the myriad foreign policy crises in the world, Washington needed to focus on the abuses of ‘a Stalinist police state’ 90 miles away. He displayed photos of dissidents and warned that expanded travel by Americans to Cuba was enabling a despotic state.” Mr. Menendez’s loathing of the Cuban government has only increased because he believes the island’s intelligence service sought to destroy his career by planting a fabricated story in the media suggesting that he had patronized underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.”

The understandable personal reasons why some Cuban-Americans oppose normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba “should not continue to anchor American policy on a failed course that has strained Washington’s relationship with allies in the hemisphere, prevented robust trade with the island and offered the Cuban government a justification for its failures.”

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[1] On October 13th the Times urged ending the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” stopping the U.S. embargo of Cuba and restoring normal diplomatic relations with the island. On October 19th the Times recommended U.S. collaboration with Cuba in combatting Ebola in West Africa as an important step towards normalization.